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Wrestling: Huskers Looking for 4-Peat at TOUGH Cliff Keen Invite in Vegas

With most of the top teams in attendance, CKLV is the toughest non-postseason tournament of the year

Brock Hardy vs. Frankie Tal Shahar
A champ at CKLV last season as a freshman, Brock Hardy returns in search of his second title in as many tries.
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

The 9th-ranked Huskers are heading to the season’s toughest non-postseason tournament of the year and looking for their fourth straight team title.

As the three-time defending champions of the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas, Nebraska may be bringing arguably its best team in years to this season’s installment of the tournament. With seven of their 10 starters ranked, the Huskers will certainly be one of the tournament favorites.

This will be the 14th-annual CKLV Invite with Nebraska and Ohio State the only two teams who have won multiple titles. The Buckeyes won three of the first four tournaments before completing a 3-peat from 2016 to 2018. That’s when Nebraska started its current run, winning its first CKLV team title in 2019. After there was no 2020 tournament due to Covid, Nebraska came back and won titles again in 2021 and 2022.

Cliff Keen is the toughest regular season tournament of the year for a reason, as 15 of the Top-25 teams in the country will be in attendance, led by Top-10 teams NC State (No. 2), Ohio State (No. 5), Michigan (No. 6), Cornell (No. 7), Iowa State (No. 8), Nebraska (No. 9) and Virginia Tech (No. 10). In fact, Nos. 5-12 in the rankings will all be in attendance. Minus the trio of Penn State (No. 1), Missouri (No. 3) and Iowa (No. 4), all the top teams will be represented. No better way for a team to establish itself than having success against such a star-studded field.

As far as individuals, there will be over 150 ranked wrestlers competing. That’s nearly half the ranked guys in the country — each weight has 33 ranked guys, so 330 total. Every year, this is the tournament that provides the most clarity on the national pecking order.

As far as top-ranked competition, there are two No. 1-ranked wrestlers in the field with 52 in the Top-10 at their weight, meaning there will be no shortage of highly-ranked matchups this weekend.

To start this season, the Huskers have a 2-0 dual record after beating both North Dakota State (31-12) and Campbell (37-4), Nebraska then went and captured a team title at the Navy Classic with six individual champs.

Nebraska returns two wrestlers who have won individual titles at CKLV in Peyton Robb and Brock Hardy who both won last year — Robb also placed sixth in 2021. Ridge Lovett is a two-time placer, having taken third in 2019 and runner-up in 2021. Returning starters Lenny Pinto and Silas Allred also placed last year, coming in sixth and fifth, respectively. Two-time placer Bubba Wilson also returns for Nebraska but he’s been overtaken in the lineup by redshirt freshman Antrell Taylor.

How To Watch

Action begins Friday morning at 11 a.m. and will go until 6 p.m. Then in the evening session, quarterfinals and consolations will take place at 8 p.m.

On Saturday, wrestling resumes at noon with semifinals and consolation matches. The finals and placement matches will follow at 5 p.m.

Live streaming can be seen on FloWrestling.org (subscription required).

Weight-by-Weight Outlook

Rankings by FloWrestling

125 pounds

4-seed Caleb Smith

Nebraska newcomer Caleb Smith (No. 10 ranked nationally) will certainly have his work cut out for him in Vegas as he will face a field that includes 15 ranked wrestlers.

A junior who transferred from Appalachian State this offseason, Smith is 7-0 as a Husker (65-16 career). He is coming off a really impressive Navy Classic where he went 5-0 with three wins via tech fall and two major decisions, including a 9-1 major over then-No. 22 Tucker Owens of Air Force.

Smith is lightning on his feet and will likely surprise some people this weekend against some of the top guys in the country.

Top-ranked Jakob Camacho of NC State and No. 2 Richard Figueroa of Arizona State are not entered, but that doesn’t mean this field lacks top-end talent. There’s top-seeded Matt Ramos (No. 3) of Purdue, Brett Ungar (No. 6) of Cornell, Michael DeAugustino (No. 8) of Michigan and Smith rounding out the list of Top-10 competitors in the field.

There could be some really interesting matchups here for Smith. Based on the pre-seeds, we can map out who Smith might face. In the Round of 16, he’ll likely see No. 18 Nick Babin (13-seed) of Columbia. With a win there, Smith could face No. 16 Jore Volk (5-seed) of Wyoming in the quarterfinal round. In the semis, if he gets there, Smith will likely face 2023 NCAA finalist Ramos. With an upset win there, Smith would face either 2-seed DeAugustino or 3-seed Ungar in the final.

If Smith is able to navigate this field, he’d likely jump up toward the top of the rankings, maybe even earning the top spot in a weight class with no clear top guy.

133 pounds

12-seed Jacob Van Dee

For Nebraska’s unranked redshirt freshman Jacob Van Dee, this tournament provides the greatest of opportunity. Last season, Brock Hardy used a CKLV title to springboard himself from No. 19 to inside the Top 5.

Van Dee is 5-1 on the year with his lone loss a 3-2 decision to No. 20 Kurt Phipps.

Based on his seed, Van Dee will have to face some of the top guys early and often. If he’s able to win his first round matchup, Van Dee will likely face No. 13 Angelo Rini (5-seed) of Columbia in the round of 16. With a win, he’d likely face No. 10 Julian Chlebove (4-seed) of Arizona State in the quarters. A win would set him up with a match against No. 3 Daton Fix (1-seed) of Oklahoma State (a World silver medalist and 3x NCAA finalist) in the semifinal.

If Van Dee does the unthinkable and knocks off Fix, he’d likely face either No. 5 Kai Orine of NC State or No. 11 Evan Frost of Purdue in the final.

For Van Dee to place (top 6 finish) would be a major achievement for the young Husker. It will no doubt be a learning experience for him regardless of whether he lands on the podium or not.

I really like Van Dee’s style and think he’s going to be really good for Nebraska. We’re going to find out a lot about Van Dee this weekend.

141 pounds

2-seed Brock Hardy

Nebraska’s No. 4-ranked Brock Hardy returns to Vegas to defend his title against another star-studded field that includes seven Top-10 competitors.

Just before the season, Hardy went overseas and took home a bronze medal at the U23 World Championships. He’s now 5-0 on the year and just won himself a title at the Navy Classic a couple weekends ago.

It won’t be long into the tournament that Hardy will be wrestling ranked guys, likely starting with a match against No. 8 Vince Cornella (7-seed) of Cornell in the quarterfinal round. In the semis, Hardy would likely see No. 5 Jesse Mendez (3-seed) of Ohio State. With a win over Mendez, Hardy would head to the final to face No. 3 Lachlan McNeil (1-seed) of North Carolina.

I’ll be really interested to see Hardy wrestle against McNeill. Hardy fell to McNeill 5-2 at NCAAs last season after breaking a rib the day before in the semis. It’ll be interesting what happens in this match with Hardy fully healthy.

Another matchup that could be fun to watch would be against Mendez, a U20 silver medalist this past summer. The young Buckeye was an All-American at 133 last year and has moved up to 141 — he’s 6-0 with two pins and four techs this year at the new weight.

149 pounds

1-seed Ridge Lovett

For Nebraska’s No. 1-ranked Ridge Lovett, this season seems different. He went through a strange couple years to start his career — pulled his redshirt as a freshman to wrestle down at 133, then came the move up to 149 but Covid derailed a lot of things, all before making the NCAA final as a sophomore before taking a redshirt as a junior last season.

Now with two years of eligibility remaining, he’s probably Nebraska’s best overall wrestler. He’s 6-0 on the year so far after winning the Navy Classic.

There’s no shortage of top-tier matchup possibilities this weekend as Lovett will be the top seed in a field that has seven Top-10 wrestlers. In addition to Lovett, there’s No. 3 Kyle Parco of Arizona State, No. 4 Caleb Henson of Virginia Tech, No. 5 Jackson Arrington of NC State, No. 6 Chance Lamer of Cal Poly, No. 7 Dylan D’Emilio of Ohio State, and No. 9 Casey Swiderski of Iowa State.

Looking at his path, Lovett will likely face 9-seed Swiderski in the quarters before taking on 4-seed D’Emilio or 5-seed Arrington in the semis. With a win there, Lovett will likely face either 2-seed Parco or 3-seed Henson in the final.

It won’t be easy, but I expect Lovett to hold serve and solidify his No. 1 ranking. Every match is enticing as Lovett has never faced any of the wrestlers listed above. I’d be especially excited to see Lovett against Tech’s Henson in the final.

157 pounds

1-seed Peyton Robb

Nebraska’s second 1-seed, No. 3-ranked Peyton Robb will face a gauntlet of his own if he wants to keep his No. 3 ranking after this weekend.

Nebraska’s lone senior, Robb is 7-0 on the year after winning the Navy Classic two weeks ago. He has two pins and four wins via tech fall this year already.

Despite being the favorite this weekend, Robb will still need to wrestle his best if he hopes to survive the weekend. Based on seeding, he’ll likely have big matchups against No. 6 Will Lewan (4-seed) or No. 8 Ed Scott (5-seed) in the semifinal before facing either No. 4 Jacori Teemer (2-seed) of Arizona State or No. 5 Bryce Andonian (3-seed) of Virginia Tech.

In addition to the top guys, I have to mention 14-seed Meyer Shapiro. The consensus top recruit a year ago won a U20 World gold medal this summer and is 4-0 to start his career with two pins and a tech fall. Looking at the bracket, he’ll likely face Andonian in the quarters and potentially No. 9 Daniel Cardenas of Stanford in the semis. If he navigates that, we could see him challenge Robb in the final — a match I’d love to see.

With that said, and this being his final season, Robb appears to me to be a man on a mission and I fully expect him to take care of business and separate himself from the guys ranked behind him.

165 pounds

6-seed Antrell Taylor

Nebraska added some more firepower to its lineup this year with No. 17 Antrell Taylor starting as a redshirt freshman. He’s quickly turned heads with his 6-0 start to the year, including a pin, a tech fall and a pair of major decisions.

The former Millard South star has a great opportunity this weekend to prove he’s right up there with the best in the country as he’ll face a field with five Top-10 wrestlers. As the 6-seed, Taylor will likely first be tested in the quarterfinal round against No. 4 Izzak Olejnik (3-seed) of Oklahoma State. If he can pull that upset, he’d likely face No. 3 Cam Amine (2-seed) of Michigan. With a win there, Taylor would face No. 2 David Carr (1-seed) in the final. Carr is a former NCAA champ and one of the best in the country at any weight, so I don’t recommend betting the upset here. I just would love to see this matchup if it materializes to see if Taylor is on that level or not.

Like I said, that’s one hell of an opportunity there. If Taylor shocks the world and runs that gauntlet, he’d probably move up to No. 2, right behind two-time NCAA champ Keegan O’Toole of Missouri. Obviously, that just represents a best-case scenario that’s highly unlikely, but I do think Taylor could knock off a couple top guys on the way to a high spot on the podium.

174 pounds

Adam Thebeau, Elise Brown Ton or Christopher Minto

It’s unclear who Nebraska will send at 174. Sophomore Adam Thebeau (5-1) and junior Elise Brown Ton (8-4) have both wrestled in duals for Nebraska this year, while true freshman Christopher Minto (9-2) has been solid in tournament play, making it to the Navy Classic final a couple weeks ago.

Regardless of who goes, this will be a tough tournament — four guys in the Top-8 will be in the field, including NCAA champion Shane Griffith of Michigan.

Not only will I be interested who goes for Nebraska, but their performance in Vegas could absolutely win or lose them the starting spot with only a couple duals left before Big Ten season rolls around in January.

184 pounds

5-seed Lenny Pinto

Last year at CKLV, Lenny Pinto made it to the semifinal round before losing three straight to finish sixth. Ranked No. 12 now, Pinto is looking for a better showing and higher placement this time around.

A sophomore, Pinto is 6-0 on the year with five bonus-point wins. He’s still a raw talent, but he’s certainly improved this season after going 22-11 a year ago. He’s a big move waiting to happen so all of his matches are must-watch.

As the 5-seed, Pinto will likely see No. 18 Dylan Fishback (12-seed) in the second round. In the quarters, Pinto could go against No. 5 Dustin Plott (4-seed) of Oklahoma State. With an upset there, Pinto could face No. 1 Parker Keckeisen (1-seed) of Northern Iowa in the semis. Pinto lost to Keckeisen last year 11-2 so this matchup will be a tough one for Pinto to pull off.

If he does upset the top-ranked Keckeisen, Pinto would then take on either No. 3 Chris Foca (3-seed) of Cornell or No. 4 Trey Munoz (2-seed) of Oregon State in the final. Pinto did upset Munoz last year at CKLV as a freshman, so i’ll be interested to see if he can consistently wrestle at that level.

Obviously, Pinto navigating this field where he’d have to take out three Top-5 guys in a row is incredibly difficult and unlikely. Much like Taylor at 165, this bracket presents Pinto with all the opportunity he could want.

As the old saying says — If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Pinto will have that opportunity this weekend.

197 pounds

6-seed Silas Allred

After getting upset in the Navy Classic final a couple weeks ago, Nebraska’s No. 11-ranked Silas Allred heads into CKLV as the 6-seed after finishing fifth a year ago. Last year’s Big Ten Champion, Allred is 6-1 on the year and will get his chance to redeem himself this weekend.

Allred will likely first be tested in the quarterfinals where he’ll likely see No. 6 Jacob Cardenas (3-seed) of Cornell. With a win there, Allred would face No. 5 Trent Hidlay (2-seed) of NC State. In a potential push to the final, Allred would likely face No. 2 Tanner Sloan (1-seed) of South Dakota State. Allred has never faced Hidlay or Cardenas in his career, so I’ll be interested in those outcomes. Sloan is 2-0 against Allred, including a 12-0 major last season.

As with every weight, the eventual champion will have run a serious gauntlet. The same is true if Allred is able to get to the top of the podium on Saturday.

285 pounds

Harley Andrews

Redshirt freshman Harley Andrews has manned the starting spot here all year. He’s taken his lumps but has also shown glimpses of being really good, like when he took down No. 15 Taye Ghadiali of Campbell right off the whistle for a quick 5-0 lead. He ended up losing the match 24-12 via major decision, but the flashes are still there.

Talking to head coach Mark Manning, Andrews just needs matches. He needs experience and to get thrown in the fray. That’s exactly what will happen this weekend as he enters unseeded.

In the field are 17 ranked wrestlers — five in the Top 10. A lot will depend on where Andrews is drawn into the bracket. I don’t expect him to place in this field, but a couple wins would be promising and great for his development.