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Wrestling: Huskers Looking to Repeat as Champs in Vegas

No. 9 Nebraska is heading to Las Vegas for the Cliff Keen Invitational to defend their 2019 title

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola (top), seen here taking down Cal Poly’s Bernie Truax in the third-place match at the 2021 NCAA Championships, is the favorite to win the Cliff Keen Invitational at 174 pounds. Truax is the top seed at 184 pounds in this year’s CKLV bracket after bumping up a weight.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The college wrestling season started a couple weeks ago, but this weekend will be 9th-ranked Nebraska’s biggest test of this young season. Nebraska travels to Las Vegas to compete in the Cliff Keen Invitational, starting this morning at 11 a.m. and ending Saturday night.

The field of 26 teams includes 11 of the Top-25 teams as well as three honorable mentions. After winning the Cliff Keen Invitational in 2019 (and the 2020 tournament being cancelled), Nebraska is the returning champ this weekend and looks to defend its throne.

The Huskers will take on a field led by No. 4 Michigan, No. 8 Ohio State, No. 11 Cornell, No. 12 Minnesota and No. 14 Rutgers. There wil be over 100 ranked wrestlers in attendance, so brace yourself for some unexpected results.

Live streaming of the event as well as live stats will be available on FloWrestling (subscription required) starting today at 11 a.m.

Weight-By-Weight Analysis

125 pounds

Nebraska has decided against entering senior No. 24 Liam Cronin here after starting the season 3-3 with a disappointing finish at the Daktronics Open. Instead, Nebraska will send out freshman Jeremiah Reno.

Reno is 2-3 on the year but was a pretty big-time recruit coming into Nebraska in 2020. He’s going against a loaded field, so he has every opportunity to prove himself.

133 pounds

Nebraska doesn’t have a wrestler entered into the tournament at this weight. It’s unclear why, as the Huskers have a number of options to sort through here.

141 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 8-ranked Chad Red Jr. comes in seeded third, behind No. 7 Andrew Alirez (2-seed) of Northern Colorado and No. 10 Clay Carlson (1-seed) of South Dakota State.

(For the record, I think those push-ups were bush league, especially against an overmatched DII opponent)

Red is 1-1 on the year with his loss coming against North Carolina’s then No. 13-ranked Kizhan Clarke in Nebraska’s dual against the Tar Heels. This weekend, Red will have a big opportunity to prove himself against a manageable field filled with ranked wrestlers.

149 pounds

This may be the tournament’s toughest weight, especially at the top of the bracket. The top two seeds are No. 1-ranked Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell and No. 2 Sammy Sasso of Ohio State. Then there’s No. 4 Yahya Thomas of Northwestern and No. 6 Jaden Abas of Stanford.

Then there’s Nebraska’s 11th-ranked Ridge Lovett as the 5-seed. Lovett was a Big Ten finalist last year and is off to a 5-2 start (his two losses were via medical forfeit). He beat then-No. 6 Zach Sherman of UNC earlier this season and is looking for more signature wins.

Well, he’ll have no shortage of opportunities in this stacked field.

157 pounds

Here at 157 is Nebraska’s giant killer. No. 7-ranked Peyton Robb knocked off NCAA Champion Austin O’Connor 5-2 earlier this year before pushing defending NCAA champ David Carr of Iowa State to overtime before losing 7-5 at the Daktronics Open.

Robb comes in as the 3-seed and will likely see Princeton’s No. 6-ranked Quincy Monday in the semifinal round. With a win, Robb would likely see No. 2 Ryan Deakin of Northwestern in the final.

165 pounds

Nebraska will be represented here by redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson. Wilson is 4-3 on the year and has shown some promise. Facing a field with seven ranked wrestlers, Wilson has his best chance to jump in the rankings with a few upset wins.

174 pounds

This is where Nebraska’s lineup gets real salty. Nebraska’s 5th-ranked Mikey Labriola is the 1-seed going into the weekend and is the heavy favorite to win.

Labriola is 5-0 on the year and could possibly be pushed by Ohio State’s No. 6 Ethan Smith (2-seed), Cornell’s No. 10 Chris Foca (3-seed), and Wyoming’s No. 11 Hayden Hastings (4-seed).

184 pounds

This is a weight where Nebraska isn’t the out and out favorite, but I see No. 11 Taylor Venz of Nebraska having the best chance of anyone else in the field. He’s 7-1 on the year with all of his wins coming via bonus points (3 pins, 2 tech falls, 2 major decisions). His lone setback was a 4-3 decision loss to Iowa State’s No. 10 Marcus Coleman.

Venz, the 3-seed, will likely face Wyoming’s No. 13 Tate Samuelson in the semifinal round. The winner will likely go on to face 1-seed Bernie Truax of Cal Poly. Truax moved up this season after finishing 4th at the NCAA tournament at 174 pounds in 2021. Truax beat Labriola at the NCAA tournament, but the Huker got revenge with a win in the 3rd-place match.

Without a heavy favorite to win, this weight is anyone’s guess. It wouldn’t be surprising to see any number of guys winning this weekend.

197 pounds

For the third weight in a row, Nebraska has a very realistic chance at gold. No. 10 Eric Schultz is the 4-seed coming into this weekend, but he’s been on a tear the past few seasons and has shown the ability to compete with and beat some of the best in the country. He’s 2-0 on the year, but he’ll face some of the best in the country this weekend.

Nine of the Top-25 wrestlers in the country will be in this bracket, led by No. 6 Jake Woodley of Oklahoma (1-seed), No. 7 Patrick Brucki of Michigan (2-seed), No. 9 Stephen Buchanan of Wyoming (3-seed) and Schultz. Also in the mix will be Binghamtons No. 11 Lou Deprez (5-seed) and Purdue’s No. 13 Thomas Penola (6-seed).

This weight class will be incredibly deep in Las Vegas with no clear favorite. It could be mayhem.

285 pounds

Yet another weight class without a clear-cut favorite. At the top is 1-seed Tate Orndorff of Ohio State (No. 7 ranked), but he’s not some dominant force that can’t be beat.

Nebraska No. 13 Christian Lance comes in as the 3-seed and will likely cruise until a semifinal match against 2-seed Brian Andrews of Wyoming (No. 8 ranked). Lance has been impressive this year as he’s 6-0 with four major decision wins, so look out for Lance making a run at the finals and a matchup with Orndorff or 4-seed Yaraslau Slavikouski of Harvard (No. 14 ranked).