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Wrestling: Huskers Downed by Sharp Purdue Squad

A depleted Nebraska team looked sluggish at times in loss to No. 15 Boilermakers

Nebraska’s No. 6 Eric Schultz (right) downed No. 13 Thomas Penola of Purdue Friday night to improve to 7-1 on the year.
Jon Johnston / CORN NATION

The No. 9 Nebraska wrestling team struggled in an 18-15 upset loss to No. 15 Purdue Friday night. The Huskers were without three of their ten starters due to a combination of injury and the lingering effects of a Covid outbreak that went through the program.

Things started poorly for Nebraska, as backup 125-pounder Jeremiah Reno was dominated by No. 9 Devin Schroder. The Husker freshman fell to Schroder 17-0 by tech fall, giving Purdue a 5-0 team lead.

Then at 133 pounds, sophomore Alex Thomsen dropped a 3-1 decision to freshman Matt Ramos, building the Purdue lead to 8-0.

At 141, Nebraska had another backup in as Tucker Sjomeling took the mat rather than No. 10 Chad Red Jr. After sharing time as the starter last season at 133 pounds, Sjomeling has moved up to 141 this year. Against No. 18 Parker Filius, the Husker junior was outmatched in a 12-2 major decision loss. Purdue up 12-0.

With a goose egg on the scoreboard and a silenced crowd, Nebraska grabbed some momentum back thanks to No. 5 Ridge Lovett at 149 pounds. Lovett continued his dominance this season as he beat Trey Kruse 10-3, cutting Purdue’s dual lead to 12-3.

Then at 157, Nebraska sent out another backup in Jevon Parrish rather than No. 7 Peyton Robb. Purdue also opted to send out a backup in Cooper Noehre rather than No. 9 Kendall Coleman. In a battle of sophomores, the two wrestled to a 3-3 tie at the end of regulation, but Parrish grabbed the sudden-victory takedown to earn the 5-3 win. The decision cut Purdue’s lead to 12-6.

In one of the dual’s toss-up matches, Nebraska freshman Bubba Wilson earned his first career Big Ten dual victory as he beat Purdue’s Hayden Lohrey 3-1. This cut the dual deficit to 12-9.

Down just three, Nebraska had to have felt confident going into the back end of its lineup, but there’s a reason the matches aren’t wrestled on paper.

At 174 pounds, Nebraska’s No. 5 Mikey Labriola was the heavy favorite against No. 19 Gerrit Nijenhuis. But the Boilermaker used some great leg defense to stifle Labriola’s attacks. Labriola led 4-3 going into the third period, but Nijenhuis used an escape and a takedown with 25 seconds left to get the 6-4 win. In a huge swing, Purdue increased its lead to 15-9.

In another big-time upset win for Purdue, No. 23 Max Lyon controlled Nebraska’s No. 9 Taylor Venz for the majority of the match. Venz falls to 10-3 on the year after falling to Lyon 7-2. With the win, Purdue had nearly clinched the dual with an 18-9 lead.

In the match of the night (since Robb-Coleman didn’t happen), Nebraska’s No. 6 Eric Schultz got Nebraska back in the win column with a controlling 5-2 win over No. 13 Thomas Penola.

With Purdue up 18-12, Nebraska needed a pin to win from No. 11 Christian Lance at heavyweight. That’s a tall order. Lance did show up and put it on Michael Woulfe in an 11-4 decision, but the Huskers fell short in the dual 18-15.

What Did We Learn?

Sluggish Return

It seems that the Covid outbreak within the Husker program still lingers, as the program is obviously still feeling the effects of it.

Not only did the loss of the South Dakota State dual on Dec. 18 mean Nebraska went a full month without hitting the mat, but there are still starters out of action. With the long layoff combined with Covid, the Huskers looked sluggish and lethargic at times. In many instances, they were plain and simply out-wrestled.

We’ll find out if this is just a blip on the radar or something bigger when Nebraska travels Friday to take on No. 14 Minnesota.

Labs and Venz Upset

Labriola and Venz underperformed against wrestlers they should have beaten. Now don’t get me wrong, Nijenhuis and Lyon are both solid wrestlers, but if the Huskers want any chance to do big things this year, Labriola and Venz need to win these matches.

Now, with how this year’s lineup is constructed combined with some injuries in the lower weights, Nebraska will likely start most of its remaining duals from behind as the Huskers lack solid options at both 125 and 133. And if they can’t depend on consistent production from the Robb-Labriola-Venz-Schultz-Lance back end, then the Huskers will be in trouble.

Bright Spots

Schultz getting a win against a ranked opponent who’s having a big-time season really showed he’s still one of the nation’s best, while Lovett looks like someone who’s moving into the upper echelon of the 149-pound weight class this season.

Lance earned a convincing win over a foe who already had 11 wins on the season, improving to 11-1 on the year. Also, freshman starter Bubba Wilson showed he has some real promise, especially defensively, as he improved to 8-6.

Then there was backup Jevon Parrish who improved to 5-1 on the year after moving up from 149 to 157 to spell Peyton Robb. The sophomore has added some very valuable depth as a backup to both Lovett and Robb.

Depth Concerns

Obviously, there’s a big drop-off at 125 pounds from Cronin to Reno. Against his only two Big Ten starting-caliber opponents, Reno has lost both matches by tech fall (18-3 to Jack Medley of Michigan, and 17-0 to Schroder).

Nebraska badly needs Cronin back in the starting lineup, and I’d presume that this weight will be a priority for Nebraska in the transfer portal after the season.

At 141, Nebraska has No. 10 Chad Red Jr., but he didn’t wrestle yesterday. Behind him, Nebraska sent out Sjomeling. The junior fought hard, but he still lost via major decision. This is another weight where Nebraska NEEDS its starter Red in the lineup.

The Huskers do have Red’s heir apparent on the roster, but freshman Brock Hardy is in redshirt and cannot wrestle in a dual.