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Wrestling: Huskers Finish 3rd at Big Tens

Nebraska takes third place with 105.5 points while falling short of crowning an individual appearance

Senior Caleb Licking, seen here wrestling against Minnesota last season, finished in seventh place at the 2021 Big Ten Championships, outperforming his No. 10 seed.
Jon Johnston / Corn Nation

After a strong Session I and Session II on Saturday, the No. 8 Nebraska wrestling team had a rather disappointing Day 2 at the 2021 Big Ten Championships.

With three wrestlers into the finals in 7-seed Ridge Lovett (149 pounds), 6-seed Taylor Venz (184) and 1-seed Eric Schultz (197), the Huskers started off strong in the consolation bracket with multiple wins putting them in position for another run at second place.

But it was to no avail as the Huskers lost all three of their matchups in the finals. Two matches were against No. 1 seeds, while the other against No. 2. In fact, nine No. 1 seeds won their weight class on Sunday with Schultz being the lone top seed to lose in the finals.

The Huskers saw some bright spots, as a number of Huskers outperformed their seeds, but it seemed that the top of Nebraska’s lineup was just a step behind the conference’s best.

The top-ranked Hawkeyes of Iowa won the team title with 159.5 points, while Penn State finished second with 124 points. The Huskers finished third with 105.5 points and will bring a team trophy back to Lincoln. Michigan scored 92 points to finish fourth.

As for individual champions, Iowa easily outpaced the field with four in Spencer Lee (125), Jaydin Eierman (141), Alex Marinelli (165) and Michael Kemerer (174). Penn State had two champions in Roman Bravo-Young (133) and Aaron Brooks (184). Ohio State had one champion in Sammy Sasso at 149, Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin won at 157, Michigan’s Myles Amine won at 197, and Minnesota’s Gable Steveson won at heavyweight.

Weight-By-Weight Breakdown

125 pounds

After Losing his first two matches, 2-seed Liam Cronin found himself in the 9th-place bracket. Instead of hanging his head, Cronin powered on to down 13-seed Dylan Shawver of Rutgers 9-5 before pinning 6-seed Eric Barnett of Wisconsin in the 9th-place match.

133 pounds

After falling to 2-seed Austin DeSanto in a hard-fought match in the quarterfinals, Nebraska’s Tucker Sjomeling again came up just short against Wisconsin’s Kyle Burwick in the consolation bracket.

Sjomeling then beat 14-seed Shane Metzler of Rutgers by pinfall when he was up 16-2 to start the 9th-place bracket. Sjomeling advanced to the 9th-place final with a forfeit win over Jordan DeCatur of Ohio State. In the final, the Husker beat 6-seed Jack Medley of Michigan 11-6.

141 pounds

After going 2-1 and falling in the semifinal match against 1-seed Jaydin Eierman of Iowa, Red moved on to the consolation bracket. In the consolation semifinal, Red beat 13-seed Colin Valdiviez again after dispatching of the Northwestern wrestler in the first round. Red won 13-2 by major decision to advance to the third-place match against 3-seed Sebastian Rivera.

Rivera, who has won two Big Ten titles at two different weight classes (125 and 133) was denied a shot at a third in another new weight class in Saturday’s semis when he lost to 2-seed Nick Lee of Penn State, presents himself as an important measuring stick for Red.

Red struck first in their match, going up 2-0 with a quick takedown before a Rivera escape. Red went up 3-1 with a second-period escape, but Rivera was able to lift Red and put him down late in the period for a takedown, tying the match at 3-all. Red was shaken up as he landed on the back of his head and neck pretty hard.

In the third period, Rivera scored an escape to go up 4-3 and Red wasn’t able to generate any offense to finish the match. With the narrow defeat, Red finished in fourth place.

149 pounds

After upsetting 2-seed Max Murin of Iowa, Nebraska’s 7-seed Ridge Lovett followed that performance with another upset in the semis as he rode out 6-seed Michael Blockhus of Minnesota to win 2-1 in the tiebreaker period.

In Sunday’s final, Lovett took on Ohio State’s top-seeded Sammy Sasso. Both wrestlers came in undefeated on the year with Lovett 8-0 and Sasso 10-0. Both guys have very similar styles, as they like to scramble on the mat and work for positions and points.

The Husker sophomore didn’t flinch as he quickly got in on a low duck-under shot and picked Sasso’s ankle for a takedown. Sasso quickly escaped, giving Lovett the early 2-1 lead. Sasso picked the bottom position to start the second period. Many wrestlers have regretted going under Lovett in the past and many others elect to choose neutral to avoid it, but Sasso took the risk in search of an escape point.

Lovett put on a hard ride of Sasso and was able to ride him for the majority of the period, but the Buckeye was able to scramble for a reversal with 22 seconds left in the period, going up 5-2.

Sasso then rode Lovett out in the third period as the Husker was hunting for a reversal. With the 5-2 loss, Lovett finished runner-up but vastly outperformed his No. 7 seed.

157 pounds

After getting pinned in the first round, Nebraska’s 10-seed Caleb Licking earned his first win of the tournament with a 2-1 decision over 9-seed Elijah Cleary of Ohio State in the second round of the consolation bracket.

In the consolation quarters, Licking fell to 5-seed Brady Berge of Penn State 12-2 by major decision. Licking went on to finish in seventh place with a forfeit win over 6-seed Will Lewan of Michigan.

Licking was another Husker who outperformed his seed.

165 pounds

After upsetting 2-seed Dan Braunagel in the quarters, Robb wrestled tough but fell short against 3-seed Ethan Smith of Ohio State in the semifinal round.

Robb moved on to face 9-seed Gerrit Nijenhuis of Purdue in the consolation semifinal round and beat the Boilermaker 6-3 to advance to the 3rd-place match to take on 4-seed Cam Amine of Michigan.

Against Amine, Robb was called early on for an illegal hold and Amine was given a point. With that the only scoring in the first, Amine earned a quick escape to start the second to go up 2-0. In the third period, Robb got an escape of his own but wasn’t able to get his offense going against the talented freshman. With Robb pressing late in the match, Amine was able to capitalize and scored a takedown on a re-attack, winning 4-1 over Robb, who would finish in fourth place.

174 pounds

After surviving a scare in the quarterfinal round, Nebraska’s 2-seed Mikey Labriola fell to Penn State’s freshman phenom Carter Starocci in sudden victory in the semis.

Labriola moved on to face 5-seed DJ Washington of Indiana in Sunday’s consolation semifinal round. After downing the Hoosier earlier this season, Labriola dispatched of him again with an 8-4 decision to move on to face 4-seed Logan Massa of Michigan in the 3rd-place match.

Labriola and Massa wrestled to a scoreless first period, but in the second period Labriola put up points in bunches. Labriola scored a takedown, a reversal and four nearfall points in the period to go up 9-1 going into the third.

In the final period, Labriola gave up a pair of escapes but collected another takedown for the 11-3 win by major decision to finish in third place.

184 pounds

Nebraska’s 6-seed Taylor Venz beat both No. 3 Layne Malczewski of Michigan State and No. 2 Chris Weiler of Wisconsin on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship final against 1-seed Aaron Brooks of Penn State.

Against Brooks, Venz shot out to an early lead with a low single-leg takedown before a Brooks escape. Venz again shot right away, but Brooks showed off his elite counter wrestling as he took Venz down on a go-behind.

Venz started the second period on top, but Brooks went up 5-2 with a reversal. Venz was able to escape but again his shot was stuffed and countered by Brooks, who took a 7-3 lead into the third.

Venz started on bottom in the third and got an escape, but the Penn State sophomore got another takedown on another go-behind. Venz scored another escape but lost the match 10-5 to finish as runner-up.

197 pounds

After two anticlimactic wins to advance to Sunday’s final, Nebraska’s 1-seed Eric Schultz took on 2-seed Myles Amine of Michigan.

The former 174-pounder who took last year off for an Olympic redshirt, Amine has been impressive at his new weight class and showed it against the Husker senior.

Amine scored two takedowns to go up 4-2 after the first period before scoring another point with a second-period escape. Schultz got an escape of his own in the third to cut the Amine lead to 5-3, but the Husker couldn’t get a good shot off. Late in the period, Amine scored a takedown to ice the match 7-3. With the loss, Schultz finishes as runner-up for the second straight year.

285 pounds

Nebraska’s 5-seed Christian Lance beat Purdue’s 12-seed Dorian Keys 4-0 in the first round and beat Illinois’ Luke Luffman 3-1 in the quarters. But the Husker injury defaulted in the semifinal round against top-seeded Gable Steveson of Minnesota.

Lance however returned to wrestle on Sunday as he fell to 7-seed Greg Kerkvliet of Penn State 10-2 by major decision in the consolation semis. Lance then moved on to face 8-seed Tate Orndorff of Ohio State in the 5th-place match.

After a scoreless first period, Lance went up 1-0 with a second-period escape. In the third, Orndorff tied things up with an escape of his own. As the time winded down, Lance was able to get in on Orndorff and finished for the takedown and a 3-1 lead with 30 seconds left.

Orndorff was able to escape but Lance was able to fend off the Buckeye for the 3-2 win and a fifth-place finish.