Nebraska is ranked No. 13 in the latest NWCA Coaches Poll and will have every chance at redemption this weekend. The Huskers travel to face No. 8 Wisconsin Friday night before taking on No. 24 Northwestern Sunday afternoon.
Wisconsin is 7-0 on the year with wins over No. 14 Minnesota, No. 16 Rutgers and No. 24 Northwestern. Northwestern is 2-3 on the season with three straight losses to No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 14 Minnesota and No. 2 Iowa.
The Huskers and the Wildcats each have seven starters ranked in the Top 25 of their weight class, while the Badgers have eight ranked wrestlers. When talking about Top-10 guys, Nebraska has five while Wisconsin and Northwestern each have three.
Again though, this all comes down to who actually wrestles. For the Huskers, No. 10 Chad Red Jr. and Peyton Robb missed the Purdue dual, while No. 12 Taylor Venz missed action against Minnesota. Then there’s senior Liam Cronin at 125 who has been out of the lineup since November.
If things play out with full lineups, there are a lot of big-time matches coming this weekend.
How to Watch
Nebraska travels to Madison to face Wisconsin Friday night at 7 p.m. before traveling to Evanston, Ill. to take on Northwestern Sunday at 2 p.m. Both duals will air on BTN plus (subscription required).
*Individual rankings according to FloWrestling
After a pair of losses to Top-10 seniors, things don’t get any easier for Husker freshman Jeremiah Reno. Against Wisconsin, Reno will face No. 6 Eric Barnett before taking on Northwestern’s No. 9 Michael DeAugustino.
Taking the spot of Liam Cronin, Reno is being thrown into the fire that is Big Ten play. It actually reminds me of the 2019-20 season when freshman Ridge Lovett had his redshirt pulled and wrestled the top three guys in the country in a row. He lost by major decision twice, but held Iowa’s Austin DeSanto to a regular decision. He was taking his lumps, but it all seems to have paid off and made him better.
Now, I’m not saying Reno will take the same career trajectory that Lovett has, but it’s worth noting when a young wrestler struggles early in his career. Reno is 3-7 on the year, but he was an undefeated high school wrestler with many accolades in freestyle as well. He’s also coming off a match where he held No. 8 Pat McKee to just a 7-2 decision. The kid can wrestle, just give him some time.
Barnett comes in 7-1 on the year. He just beat McKee 8-5 last time out, but his one loss came to Northwestern’s Michael DeAugustino 9-5 via decision. DeAugustino is 2-1 on the year with wins over both Barnett and McKee. His loss was a 6-5 loss to Iowa true freshman No. 8 Drake Ayala.
Reno is up against it again this weekend, but with not a lot to lose the youngster has the chance to just let it fly. Honestly, holding either of these matches to a decision would be a win for Reno and the Huskers as a team.
The Huskers again list both sophomore Alex Thomsen and freshman Dominick Serrano at this weight. Thomsen wrestled last week against Minnesota despite Serrano listed as an OR on the depth chart, so we’ll assume that the Huskers are trying to preserve Serrano’s redshirt and Thomsen will be out there for Nebraska.
Nebraska’s Thomsen is 2-5 on the year and has lost his first two Big Ten duals, including an 8-3 loss to No. 20 Jake Gliva last time out.
Against Wisconsin, Thomsen will face No. 23 Kyle Burwick, who’s 9-8 on the year. All of Burwick’s losses this season have come via decision, but he’s 0-7 against ranked opponents. On Sunday, Thomsen will face Northwestern’s No. 9 Chris Cannon. Cannon is 9-1 on the year with his only loss a 9-5 decision to No. 8 Dylan Ragusin of Michigan. In their meeting, Cannon defeated Burwick 4-0.
Here’s some of Cannon’s handy work at last year’s NCAA tournament.
Chris Cannon gets the pin off the standing switch to granby chain. Opp's left arm around the waist became a liability once the hips fell into his armpit space - this left arm then becomes a lever that causes his torso to rotate towards the mat. Thx for the request @CrunchTheHuman https://t.co/9GsesWOlxw pic.twitter.com/1uTR7ygZrc— Dan Sweeney (@DPSBreakdowns) March 19, 2021
Thomsen has the potential to turn things around, and that starts with a winnable matchup against Burwick. Against Cannon, a 2021 U23 World Team member, Thomsen will likely struggle.
After missing the dual against Purdue, No. 10 Chad Red Jr. came back to earn a 9-0 major decision against Minnesota’s Jager Eisch. Red is 7-2 on the year.
Against Wisconsin, Red will take on No. 19 Joseph Zargo, who is 9-6 on the year. However, Zargo has lost four-straight matches, including three to ranked wrestlers. Against No. 3 Sebastian Rivera, Zargo lost 19-3 via tech fall.
Northwestern’s Frankie Tal Shahar will face Red on Sunday. Tal Shahar is 5-4 on the year with his best win so far over Zargo.
Red usually gets better as the season goes on, and after seeming to struggle with his conditioning last week, I expect the senior to be in better shape. He should control both Zargo and Tal Shahar pretty easily.
This is where things will get really fun to watch. Nebraska’s best wrestler so far this season No. 4 Ridge Lovett has a pair of big matchups waiting for him. First, he’ll face No. 8 Austin Gomez of Wisconsin before toeing the line against No. 11 Yahya Thomas of Northwestern.
Lovett is 12-1 on the year and is an overtime scramble away from being 13-0 with a win over No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis. The matchup with Gomez is the most intriguing here. Both Lovett and Gomez have styles where they kind of just let it fly. Lots of attacks. Lots of scrambles.
Gomez is 10-1 on the year with his only loss in overtime to No. 8 Josh Heil of Campbell. He has three-straight wins over ranked opponents, including an 8-6 win over Northwestern’s Thomas. Thomas is 7-3 on the year but has struggled in Big Ten play. He’s 1-2 in conference duals, falling to Gomez and No. 13 Max Murin 4-3 by decision.
Honestly, the way I look at it is these are great opportunities for Lovett to cement himself as a Big Ten and NCAA threat at 149 pounds. After taking second at Big Tens last year, Lovett has gotten even better this season. I expect him to earn a pair of big-time wins this weekend and maybe move up the rankings even further.
After an impressive beginning of the season, No. 8 Peyton Robb has kind of cooled off. After downing NCAA Champion Austin O’Connor and taking another NCAA Champion David Carr of Iowa State to overtime, Robb dropped matches to No. 5 Quincy Monday of Princeton and another last weekend to No. 5 Brayton Lee of Minnesota.
Robb is 7-3 on the year and much like Lovett, he has a huge opportunity in front of him. First against Wisconsin, Robb will face No. 22 Garrett Model. Model is just 10-6 on the year, but two days after Lee beat Robb 4-0, Model controlled Lee in a 10-5 upset win. Also, Model held Northwestern’s No. 2 Ryan Deakin to an 8-3 decision.
Against Northwestern, Robb is slated to face Deakin. Deakin is 6-0 on the year and has only lost one college match since the 2019-20 season. He’s a two-time Big Ten Champion. This year, Deakin has already downed Monday (8-3 decision) and current No. 10 Kendall Coleman of Purdue (pinfall).
Honestly, a win over Deakin would do more for Robb than just about anything else he could do. Deakin has had a stranglehold on the 157-pound weight class in the Big Ten the past few years, and a win would vault Robb back up into contender status. Despite Model’s win over Lee, I feel like Robb will get a controlling decision win over the Badger.
The freshman Bubba Wilson has been pretty good this season with an 8-7 record. He’s 1-1 in Big Ten play but is coming off a 6-3 loss to Minnesota’s Cael Carlson.
Against the Badgers, Wilson will have his hands full with fellow freshman No. 12 Dean Hamiti. Hamiti is 14-0 on the year and has been shooting up the rankings. Last time out, he pinned Carlson in just over a minute for his fourth stick of the year. Against ranked opponents, Hamiti is 3-0 with two pins and a tech fall. Yeah, he’s really good.
Things are much more manageable against Northwestern, as Wilson will face either David Ferrante or Erich Byelick. Ferrante is 6-4 on the year but hasn’t wrestled since December. Byelick has filled in for Ferrante in his absence and is 0-2 so far. He lost a 13-1 major decision to Hamiti and was pinned by Carlson so far.
Wilson will have an uphill battle against Hamiti, but a win against Northwestern seems to be highly likely.
Nebraska’s No. 5 Mikey Labriola got back in the win column with a last-second reversal against No. 19 Bailee O’Reilly of Minnesota last weekend. This weekend, Labriola has a chance to grab some wins in matches he’s favored in but are still against ranked opponents.
Against Wisconsin, Labriola will face No. 20 Andrew McNally. The Badger senior is 6-3 on the year, but he’s coming off an 11-3 major decision loss to O’Reilly. He did pick up a win over Northwestern’s No. 21 Troy Fisher 3-1 via decision. Fisher is 10-5 on the year but is on a three-match skid. He also fell to O’Reilly via 9-5 decision. Fisher also holds an 8-4 win over No. 16 Gerrit Nijenhuis of Purdue, the man who downed Labriola to begin conference play.
Labriola has struggled lately. This is an opportunity for him to show why he’s ranked so high and why he should stay there.
Nebraska’s No. 12 Taylor Venz started Big Ten action with a 7-2 loss to No. 23 Max Lyon of Purdue before missing Nebraska’s dual against Minnesota. Freshman Brandyn Van Tassell filled in for Venz against the Gophers and fell to Isaiah Salazar 9-3.
Venz is 10-3 on the year and if he takes the mat, he has a couple manageable matches ahead of him. Against Wisconsin, Venz will face Chris Weiler who is 6-7 on the year. Weiler just lost to Salazar 14-5 last time out.
As for Northwestern, Jack Jessen will take the mat for Northwestern. The sophomore is just 1-5 on the year and already fell to Venz via pinfall at the Cliff Keen Invitational. Last time out, Jessen fell to No. 19 Abe Assad of Iowa 16-0 via tech fall.
If it’s Venz on the mat for Nebraska, he should easily defeat both Weiler and Jessen. If Van Tassell toes the line, I think he might split matches with a win over Jessen.
For Nebraska’s No. 6 Eric Schultz, this weekend may not look so hard based on the rankings, but these are some tough matches coming up.
Schultz is 8-1 on the year and 2-0 in Big Ten action. Against Wisconsin, Schultz will face freshman Braxton Amos. Amos is 13-3 on the year but is a seriously talented wrestler. In 2021, Amos made the Olympic Trials final in Greco-Roman before earning two medals at the Junior World Championships, a gold in freestyle and a bronze in Greco-Roman. He has all the talent in the world, making him extremely dangerous.
Then on Sunday Schultz will face No. 19 Andrew Davison of Northwestern. Davison is 7-5 this year but has lost four of his last five matches, including a 4-0 loss to Schultz at CKLV. Last time out, Davison lost to No. 3 Jacob Warner of Iowa 11-2 via major decision.
For Schultz who’s almost always solid, he should be able to navigate this weekend’s landmines. I’ll be especially interested in the contrast of styles against Amos. Amos is more of an athletic high-flyer, while Schultz is an extremely sound and savvy wrestler who is rarely out of position and likes to control matches with his heavy hands and ties.
For No. 11 Christian Lance, things can only get easier after facing No. 1 Gable Steveson. Lance is 11-2 on the year now and has another pair of ranked foes in front of him this weekend.
Against Wisconsin, Lance will face No. 7 Trent Hillger. Hillger is 11-2 on the year with losses to Steveson and No. 12 Lucas Davison of Northwestern. The three-time All-American lost to Lance last season in a dual, 4-2 in overtime. Hillger is a very good wrestler, and this match will go a long way for Lance as far as conference and national seeds go.
For Northwestern, No. 12 Lucas Davison is 12-4 on the year but he did already fall to Lance this season 8-6 in overtime. Now, Davison is coming off back-to-back losses to Steveson and Iowa’s No. 5 Tony Cassioppi, but everyone loses to Steveson and almost everyone loses to Cassioppi. This will be another big match for Lance as far as seeding goes.
Both these matches could really be toss-ups. Lance has been really good this year though, so I like his chances.
As is the norm in Big Ten competition, these duals could come down to a few matches that could go either way. Against Wisconsin, Nebraska will likely need a win out of Lovett while getting wins out of Labriola, Venz and Schultz at its upper weights.
Against Northwestern, Nebraska seems to have more paths to a team win, but big matchups between Lovett and Thomas and Robb and Deakin will determine whether the Huskers can pull away.
What will determine Nebraska’s fate this weekend though is whether it has its full lineup. The Huskers haven’t had a full starting lineup in either Big Ten dual, so that may not happen as the team aims to have everyone ready for the postseason.
Nebraska 17-16 win over Wisconsin
Nebraska 23-11 win over Northwestern