The Huskers continued their dominance this weekend in Las Vegas at the Cliff Keen Invitational, considered one of, if not the most difficult college tournament outside of the NCAA Championships.
The 26-team field included 11 ranked Division I teams and was filled with over 100 ranked wrestlers. And for the second time in a row, Nebraska took home the team title with 125 points. The 8th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes finished second with 104, while No. 4 Michigan finished third with 94.5 points despite not wrestling their three best wrestlers. No. 24 Northwestern and Wyoming tied for fourth with 91.5 points each, while Purdue finished sixth with 85.5 points.
The Huskers showed their depth up and down the lineup but really flexed their muscles in the upper weights. Nebraska was led by junior Mikey Labriola’s gold medal at 174 pounds, but the Huskers added two runner-up finishes, three third-place finishes, one sixth-placer and an 8th-place finisher for a total of eight placers. That’s what allowed Nebraska to pull away from the field.
Without a wrestler entered at 133 pounds, Nebraska was wrestling only nine guys. Here’s how they did:
*FloWrestling individual rankings used
It was freshman Jeremiah Reno who took the mat for Nebraska and not No. 24 Liam Cronin. It’s unclear why, but with there being no sign of an injury, I have to assume that it’s more about keeping Cronin fresh throughout the long season. He is a sixth-year senior after all.
Reno started things off against Michigan’s 4-seed Jack Medley. The senior Wolverine downed Reno 18-3 via tech fall. Reno then downed fellow freshman Greg Diakomihalis of Cornell 4-3 on the back side of the bracket. Reno then lost an 8-2 decision to Harvard’s Beau Bayless, finishing with a 1-2 record. He is now 3-5 on the year.
Nebraska’s No. 8-ranked Chad Red Jr. came into CKLV as the 3-seed. He rattled off three straight decision wins on the way to the semifinal round, where he took on No. 7 Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado. The 2-seed, Alirez proved too much for Red as he secured a big, pivotal takedown in the third period. Red dropped the match 3-1 and went onto the consolation semifinals.
Red defeated 11th-ranked Grant Willits of Oregon State 4-2 by decision before taking care of Michigan’s Cole Mattin 6-1 in the 3rd-place match.
Red went 5-1 through the tournament, improving his record on the season to 6-2.
Ridge Lovett, the sophomore from Idaho, may have fell short of gold, but he sure made a statement in Vegas in the toughest weight class there.
The No. 11-ranked wrestler in the country at 149 pounds, Lovett started his tournament with a major decision and a win by pinfall before pulling the upset against No. 6 Jaden Abas of Stanford in the quarterfinal round. Lovett nearly bonus-pointed Abas, downing him 9-2.
Then in the semis, Lovett took on top-ranked and top-seeded Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell. Lovett fell behind 2-1 in the first period but evened things up at 2-all in the second with an escape. In the third, Yianni was able to score a reversal after starting on bottom to take a 4-2 lead. Then late in the match, Lovett scored a reversal of his own to tie the match at 4-all, sending it to overtime. In sudden victory, a scramble ensued and Yianni came out on top with the takedown, handing Lovett the 6-4 loss.
Verified— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) December 4, 2021
Ridge Lovett give Yianni all he can handle but Yianni gets the takedown in OT for the win.
Yianni vs. Sasso for CKLV gold.
But for the sophomore Lovett to push a guy like Yianni, a 2x National Champ and World Team member, to overtime says a lot.
In the consolation quarters, Lovett took on Oklahoma’s No. 16 Mitch Moore. Lovett was able to hold on for a 3-2 decision win after riding out the Sooner for the entire third period. Lovett then won the 3rd-place match via medical forfeit over Northwestern’s No. 4 Yahya Thomas.
With the 5-1 record and third-place finish, Lovett improves to 10-3 on the year with two of those losses being medical forfeits. His only real loss of the year was the overtime match to No. 1.
Nebraska’s hottest wrestler coming in, No. 7 Peyton Robb started strong with a pin in the opening round before a decision win to advance to the semis.
In the semis, Robb took on No. 6 Quincy Monday of Princeton. Monday came out on fire, taking a 6-2 lead with two takedowns and a reversal in the first period. In the first period down 2-1, Robb had to take injury time after hurting his knee. Robb was able to continue, but Monday got choice, took bottom, and scored the reversal.
In the second period, Monday added a point on an escape. Then in the third, Robb scored two escapes to Monday’s takedown before Robb got a takedown then got Monday’s arm trapped for a tilt and some possible back points, but the action went out of bounds. If Robb had secured the nearfall points in bounds and rode Monday out, the match would have been tied at 11-all and heading to overtime. Instead, Monday secured a late escape to win 11-6.
Robb then medical forfeited in the consolation semis before a no contest in the 5th-place match, as both Robb and Purdue’s Kendall Coleman medical forfeited in the consolation semis.
Robb went 2-2 on the weekend officially to finish sixth. He’s now 7-3 on the year.
Personally, I think Bubba Wilson quietly showed the most improvements this weekend but was overshadowed by Nebraska’s big hitters.
The unseeded redshirt freshman, Wilson fell to 14th-ranked Cam Amine of Michigan 5-3 by decision in the first round.
Pushed into the consolation bracket, Wilson went on a run. He pinned Purdue’s Emil Soehnlen in the first period before downing Oregon State’s Matthew Olguin 3-1. Then Wilson got a chance to get one back against UNK’s Matt Malcolm. The 2nd-ranked DII wrestler at 165, Malcolm downed Wilson 10-5 earlier in the season at the Nebraska Duals. This time though, Wilson took out Malcolm 11-5.
Wilson then fell to No. 17 Philip Conigliaro of Harvard 3-1 before losing to Columbia’s Joshua Ogunsanya 7-5 in overtime in the 7th-place match.
Wilson went 3-3 to finish eighth, making him 7-6 on the year.
Mikey Labriola continues to be Nebraska’s best wrestler, as the 5th-ranked Husker is still undefeated on the year after winning gold this weekend.
Labriola started with a major decision win in the opening round before downing Kent State’s Michael Ferree 9-7. In the quarterfinal round, Labriola dominated No. 17 Aaron Olmos 18-1 via tech fall early in the third period.
In the semifinal, Labriola beat No. 19 Cade DeVos of South Dakota State 6-2. Then in the final against Ohio State’s No. 6 Ethan Smith, the two men wrestled to a 3-all tie after one period. Smith then went up 5-4 in the second with a reversal to Labriola’s escape. Labriola recorded an escape in the third to even things at 5 apiece, sending the match to overtime.
In sudden victory, Labriola and Smith had a clash of heads, opening up a big cut over Labriola’s eye. After going to his corner and getting a head wrap, Labriola went out and pushed the pace and came out on top of a crazy scramble (see below).
Labriola now sits at 10-0 on the year, cementing his status as one of the best in the country at 174.
Looking for his fourth CKLV medal, Nebraska’s No. 11 Taylor Venz looked like the man to beat but fell just short.
Venz downed Northwestern’s Jack Jessen via pinfall in the third period when he was already up 17-0, then he beat No. 23 Travis Stefanik of Princeton 6-2 in the quarters. In the semifinal round, Venz was dominant as he beat No. 20 Jonathan Loew of Cornell 16-1 via tech fall.
Then in the final, Ohio State’s Kaleb Romero was able to neutralize Venz in a 7-3 decision win.
Venz finished in second place with a 3-1 record, moving to 10-2 on the year.
Another senior hammer for Nebraska, No. 10 Eric Schultz had one of Nebraska’s best showings this weekend.
Schultz pinned the Citadel’s Ben Stemmet (Schultz was up 10-0) before downing No. 19 Andrew Davison of Northwestern by 4-0 decision. In the quarters, Schultz controlled No. 11 Lou Deprez of Binghamton 2-0.
Schultz then upset No. 6 Jake Woodley of Oklahoma 6-2, giving up his first two points of the tournament on a pair of third-period escapes.
Then in the final, Schultz had trouble handling the offense of No. 9 Stephen Buchanan of Wyoming, dropping the match 7-3.
With the 4-1 record and second-place finish, Schultz moves to 6-1 on the year.
Senior No. 13 Christian Lance continues to impress for Nebraska. After a 20-8 major decision win in his opening match, Lance downed South Dakota State’s AJ Nevills 6-3 in the quarters.
In the semis, Lance dropped a close 3-1 decision to Oregon State’s No. 21 “Gas Tank” Gary Traub, who went on to win the tournament. Lance then downed Northwestern’s Lucas Davison 8-6 in sudden victory before controlling No. 7 Tate Orndorff of Ohio State for a 10-4 win in the 3rd-place match.
Lance’s third-place finish and 4-1 record pushes him to 10-1 on the year.
What’s Next for Nebraska?
The Huskers will take two weeks off from competition before welcoming South Dakota State to Lincoln for a dual on Saturday, Dec. 18.