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Wrestling: Will the Seniors Return for the Huskers?

All six of Nebraska’s seniors were starters, will any of them return for another year of eligibility?

Eric Schultz, a four-time NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds, has the choice to return for another year or not. His and his teammates’ decisions will impact the Nebraska program for this year and years to come.
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

This past season, the Huskers had six seniors in their starting lineup. And with this year not counting against eligibility, these seniors can choose to come back for another year. Their scholarships wouldn’t count against the 9.9 scholarships the team is allowed, but the university is responsible for footing the bill.

That means that right now we have no idea who will be taking the mat for Nebraska next season. Nothing has come out from any of Nebraska’s senior starters as of yet whether they plan on coming back.

Now, I don’t believe all of these guys will choose to return. There are a lot of factors at play. These guys are probably looking ahead to life after college with a degree in hand. Maybe they don’t want to wait all the way until winter to start a season that stretches until March. Perhaps there is a young guy waiting in the wings that’s ready to start.

With that said, it would benefit Nebraska greatly in the short term and the long run if a few of these key guys return. Bringing back a few All-Americans obviously makes Nebraska a tough team next year, but it would also give Nebraska the chance to redshirt some key freshmen. As you may or may not know, this past season didn’t include redshirts because no eligibility was taken. They’ll be “true freshmen” again this coming year, so they’ll be eligible to redshirt. And Nebraska’s freshman class this year was huge with nine guys.

With the shortened season and no tournaments, few of Nebraska’s freshmen got any live action. I anticipate the Husker youngsters getting plenty of tournament action before the dual season begins, hopefully keeping those redshirts intact (if a wrestler who is redshirting enters a tournament unattached, they’re eligible to wrestle without burning their redshirt).

In my opinion, the two guys Nebraska would most greatly benefit from bringing back are Taylor Venz at 184 pounds and Eric Schultz at 197. This is based on two things. Both kind of seem to have some unfinished business, and their returns would allow Nebraska to redshirt the freshmen behind them in preparation to start in 2022-23.

Taylor Venz, taking down Minnesota’s Owen Webster in 2020.
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

True freshman Nathan Haas started a few duals this past season and even picked up a win over a ranked opponent in his first career match. He’s a California state champ and a top-shelf prospect, but he also got manhandled a few times against top-level competition. His time is coming, but he’d greatly benefit from a real redshirt year. Also, true freshman Brandyn Van Tassell went 3-2 on the year in extra matches at 184.

Similar story at 197, where the Huskers have a big-time prospect in freshman Silas Allred. Allred went 1-1 on the year in extra matches, and I think Schultz’s return would allow a much-needed redshirt.

Another possibility would be a scenario where Schultz chooses to not return but Venz comes back. Venz could move up to 197 and Haas would start at 184. Or maybe Mikey Labriola moves up from 174 to replace Venz if he moves up. After all, Labriola does seem huge for the weight.

At 125 pounds, senior Liam Cronin went to his first career NCAA tournament. He went 10-5 in his first season as a Husker after transferring from Indiana. Cronin is solid and generally holds his own in the Big Ten, and his return would be a big boost for Nebraska this year.

Not only would it make Nebraska stronger next season, it would allow undefeated high schooler Jeremiah Reno redshirt. After a stellar prep career, Reno came in and went 1-2 in extra matches this past season. Reno’s the future of this team at 125, but he is one who would benefit the most by sitting a year and wrestling winter tournaments.

Chad Red Jr. has been one of Nebraska’s best wrestlers for years. He just finished as an All-American for the fourth year in a row with his 6th-place finish in March at NCAAs.

Based on his caliber and excitement, I want Chad Red as many years as we can get him. He’s so savvy and explosive, but he’s always just been a level below guys like Nick Lee of Penn State, who’s already said he’s coming back.

It would obviously hurt Nebraska if Red doesn’t return, but not as much as some of the guys already mentioned because there’s a guy there that Nebraska head coach Mark Manning thinks is the future at 141 for Nebraska. Brock Hardy was a true freshman this season after taking two years off after high school for an LDS mission. He started the first half of the year at 149 pounds before Ridge Lovett took that spot. Hardy went 5-3 on the year with some big wins over quality Big Ten competition.

Here’s what Manning had to say about Hardy at his press conference before the Big Ten Championships.

“We kind of see (Hardy) as our future 141 after CJ graduates next year,” Manning said. “Brock went on his Mormon mission, I think that’s well-documented. So, really next year he’ll be a freshman and still has a redshirt year left, so Brock has pretty much grown about as big as he’s gonna grow. He doesn’t weight much more than 149”

Both Caleb Licking (157 pounds) and Christian Lance (285) were solid starters this season, as they both qualified for NCAAs. But the loss of either of these two wouldn’t be overly painful. Licking went 5-8 on the year. He was a tough competitor, but he struggled with Big Ten competition. Lance went 10-7 on the year. He had some big moments and a few big wins, but he’s kind of proven his ceiling. I’m interested in seeing junior Cale Davidson take the mat for Nebraska after going 6-0 in extra matches. The Wyoming transfer from 2019 has made a move up from 197 to heavyweight and has been impressive in limited opportunities.

There are a lot of things to sort out, but it all hinges on who returns for another senior year.

Teams Most Affected

In the Big Ten, Nebraska and Iowa had by far the most seniors in their starting lineups. Iowa had eight wrestlers achieve All-American status with seven of them seniors, while Nebraska had two All-Americans (Red and Labriola) and six senior starters.

Almost all of Iowa’s seniors have announced they’ll return, including defending 3x NCAA champ Spencer Lee and NCAA finalists Jaydin Eierman.

After an NCAA tournament that the Hawkeyes won as a team but Penn State took home four individual titles, this coming season looks to be a two-horse race already. Penn State’s only senior, NCAA champion Nick Lee, is returning and the Nittany Lions are considered the favorite to land Stanford transfer and 2021 NCAA champ at 165 pounds Shane Griffith. If that happens, it would give Penn State five of the ten defending NCAA champs in the country. Penn State had five freshmen qualify for the 2021 NCAAs, including Carter Starocci who won the title at 174.

Michigan has a pair of senior All-Americans who will need to decide in Logan Massa and Myles Amine, while Northwestern’s Ryan Deakin’s decision will greatly impact the Wildcats.

Rutgers got a boost when Sebastian Rivera announced he’ll return for another year at 141 pounds.

Record Book Impact

This extra year awarded by the NCAA will have an impact on the record books. Despite this year being extremely shortened, a number of Nebraska’s wrestlers will likely climb their way quite high on Nebraska’s All-Time Wins list.

Currently, Eric Schultz has a career 86-30 record and sits 29 wins out of the Top 10. Venz and Red both have 82 wins in their careers with Venz going 82-30 and Red 82-38. Then there’s junior Mikey Labriola who is 67-21 with two more years to wrestle. Peyton Robb, a sophomore at 165, is 31-13 in his career and Ridge Lovett is 27-11 as a sophomore.

It’s possible more than a few of these guys end up in Nebraska’s 100-wins club.