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Wrestling: Huskers to Host Fighting Illini

No. 8 Nebraska will take on unranked Illinois on Sunday morning

NCAA Photos Archive
Former Illinois All-American and two-time NCAA finalist Mike Poeta (right) is in his first season as head coach at Illinois. Poeta is seen here facing Nebraska great Jordan Burroughs in the 2009 NCAA Championship final.
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The No. 8-ranked Huskers will look to bounce back after a pair of losses to No. 3 Michigan and No. 1 Penn State. Nebraska will host Illinois this Sunday at the Devaney Center.

The Huskers are 5-4 on the year and 2-4 in the Big Ten, while Illinois is 3-6 in duals on the year, including a 1-6 mark in the conference. Illinois started its conference slate with losses to five ranked teams in a row in Rutgers, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota. The Illini then downed Indiana 36-3 before falling to No. 9 Wisconsin 32-10 Friday night.

In his first season as the Illinois head coach, former three-time All-American for the Illini Mike Poeta has five wrestlers ranked in the Top 25 of their respective weight classes while Nebraska has seven ranked wrestlers. The feature match of the dual will probably be Nebraska’s No. 10 Chad Red Jr. against No. 11 Dylan Duncan of Illinois.

How to Watch

Nebraska hosts Illinois Sunday morning at 11 a.m. at the Devaney Center. The dual will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Weight-By-Weight Analysis

*Individual rankings according to FloWrestling

125 pounds

After an extremely tough Big Ten slate so far, Nebraska freshman Jeremiah Reno will face either Justin Cardani or Dane Durlacher.

Cardani has been the regular starter all year and holds a 10-7 record, while Durlacher got the start yesterday against Wisconsin but was pinned by No. 5 Eric Barnett. Cardani started Big Ten play with five straight losses but earned a 2-0 overtime win in his last match against Indiana’s Jacob Moran. Before the win, Cardani was shut out in three straight matches against top competition.

Reno is 3-11 on the year but has shown some good things against the best in the nation. He’s 0-6 in Big Ten duals with five of those matches against Top-10 opponents. He was shut out in three of those matches but managed to keep four of those losses to decisions.

Regardless of who Illinois send out, Reno has his best opportunity yet to get his first career conference win.

133 pounds

This match will be another tough one for freshman Dominick Serrano of Nebraska. Illinois’ No. 5-ranked Lucas Byrd will be Serrano’s fourth straight Top-10 opponent. After holding losses to both No. 9 Chris Cannon of Northwestern and No. 8 Dylan Ragusin of Michigan to decisions, Serrano was dominated last time out in a 23-8 tech fall to No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State, the defending NCAA Champion at 133 pounds.

Byrd is a redshirt freshman who holds a 17-1 record on the year after winning via major decision over Wisconsin’s Kyle Burwick last night. His only loss was an overtime loss in his second match of the year to now-No. 17 Anthony Madrigal of Oklahoma.

Serrano’s best win of the year was an overtime victory over Burwick. Byrd is now 2-0 against Burwick on the year.

Beating Byrd will be a tall task for Serrano, but if he can keep it to just a decision and not give up bonus points, that would be a win for the team as a whole.

141 pounds

In the day’s best matchup of ranked opponents, Nebraska’s No. 10 Chad Red Jr. will take on No. 11 Dylan Duncan of Illinois.

Duncan is 3-1 on the year after suffering his first loss yesterday in overtime against No. 21 Joseph Zargo of Wisconsin. Last season, Red went 2-1 against Duncan, earning wins in their dual and at the Big Ten Championships before falling to Duncan at the NCAA Championships in the fifth-place match.

Red is 10-3 on the year after dropping his first conference match to No. 1 Nick Lee of Penn State last weekend. Last Friday, Red beat then-No. 11 Stevan Micic of Michigan 7-3.

Duncan hasn’t looked great since joining the lineup in late January, and he struggled at times in his loss to Zargo yesterday. Red should have the upper hand in this one.

149 pounds

Nebraska’s most exciting wrestler has also arguably been its best this season. No. 6 Ridge Lovett is 15-2 on the year for the Huskers with losses to No. 1 Yianni Diakomihalis in overtime and to No. 5 Austin Gomez of Wisconsin 4-2. Since losing to Gomez, Lovett has dropped two ranked opponents, including a dominant 6-0 win over No. 15 Beau Bartlett of Penn State.

Lovett will face Christian Kanzler of Illinois. Kanzler is 11-9 on the year and was pinned by Gomez last night in 42 seconds. This should be an easy win for Lovett.

157 pounds

After an impressive start to his season, Nebraska’s No. 8 Peyton Robb has struggled at times in Big Ten play. He’s 9-5 on the year but only 2-2 in conference duals. Last time out, Robb downed Penn State’s Terrell Barraclough 3-2.

Robb will take on Illinois’ Joe Roberts. Roberts is 10-12 on the year and fell to No. 22 Garrett Model of Wisconsin last night in a 5-1 decision. Roberts’ lone conference win this season was a 3-2 decision over Indiana’s Jonathan Kervin.

Robb should likely dominate here against Roberts and should have the opportunity for bonus points.

165 pounds

Next up for Nebraska is freshman Bubba Wilson. The young Husker is 10-8 on the year and picked up the biggest win of his career so far his last time out against Michigan’s No. 11 Cam Amine 5-3. Wilson is 3-2 in Big Ten duals.

Wilson will face Illinois’ Danny Braunagel here. Braunagel was on a three-match win streak until he lost an 11-1 major decision to No. 8 Dean Hamiti of Wisconsin last night. Braunagel is now 10-8 on the year.

This matchup looks to be a coin flip, as Braunagel is a tough out. Wilson has improved rapidly this season, so don’t count him out either.

174 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 6 Mikey Labriola comes into Sunday morning’s dual with a 14-2 record. Last weekend, he went 1-1 with a loss to No. 6 Logan Massa of Michigan and a win over Penn State’s Mason Manville. Labriola is 4-2 in Big Ten duals.

Labriola will face off against No. 24 DJ Shannon of Illinois. Shannon is 7-7 on the year after downing Wisconsin’s Andrew McNally via pinfall last night.

Shannon is a solid wrestler, but Labriola should be a sizable favorite coming into this one.

184 pounds

Nebraska’s No. 12 Taylor Venz is looking to rebound after going 0-2 last weekend with losses to No. 2 Myles Amine of Michigan and No. 1 Aaron Brooks of Penn State. Venz is 12-4 on the year but only 2-3 in Big Ten duals.

Venz will take on No. 21 Zac Braunagel, the twin brother of Danny. Zac Braunagel is 9-6 on the year after dropping his match 8-2 last night to Wisconsin’s No. 23 Chris Weiler.

In a step down in competition, Venz is the favorite to earn the win against Zac Braunagel.

197 pounds

Then there’s No. 6 Eric Schultz here for Nebraska. Probably Nebraska’s most consistent wrestler, Schultz is 12-1 on the year with his only loss to Wyoming’s No. 4 Stephen Buchanan in the Cliff Keen Invitational finals.

Last weekend, Schultz earned wins over a pair of All-Americans in No. 8 Pat Brucki of Michigan and Michael Beard of Penn State.

On Sunday, Schultz will likely face off against Matt Wroblewski. Wroblewski is 4-7 on the year after falling to Wisconsin’s No. 23 Braxton Amos via 10-0 major decision.

Schultz beat Amos earlier this year and should do the same to Wroblewski. Schultz should be able to earn bonus points in this one.

285 pounds

At heavyweight, No. 10 Christian Lance had a rough weekend last time out as he took losses to No. 4 Mason Parris and No. 3 Greg Kerkvliet. Lance is 12-5 on the year but has had to navigate one of the toughest schedules in the nation.

For Illinois, No. 17 Luke Luffman has been pretty good this season with a 13-6 record. He’s 3-4 in Big Ten duals after falling to No. 11 Trent Hillger via 10-2 major decision last night.

Lance beat Hillger 5-3 in their dual matchup earlier this year. Luffman is no slouch, but Lance should be a slight favorite in this one.

Final Prediction

If the dual starts at 125 pounds, Illinois will likely jump out to a quick lead as it is favored in the two lightest weights against Husker freshmen who have struggled in Big Ten play.

After those two matches, Nebraska will be the favorite in the final eight matches, and if the Huskers can perform like they should, they will end the dual on an eight-match win streak for a dominant team win.

Score Prediction: 28-7 Nebraska victory