Experienced Husker wrestling team set to open season on Friday

Nebraska opens the 2020-21 campaign 306 days after the team last competed at the 2020 Big Ten Championships in March. Friday's season-opener marks the first time since 1958 that NU begins the season in January.

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Athletics) — The No. 5 Nebraska wrestling team kicks off the season on Friday, Jan. 8, hosting No. 12 Minnesota at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The dual begins at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast by BTN.

Nebraska opens the 2020-21 campaign 306 days after the team last competed at the 2020 Big Ten Championships in March. Friday’s season-opener marks the first time since 1958 that NU begins the season in January.

The Huskers’ roster features 11 wrestlers with dual experience as the team heads into Big Ten competition. The group includes All-Americans Chad Red Jr., Taylor Venz, Eric Schultz, Mikey Labriola, Ridge Lovett and Peyton Robb. In addition, Alex Thomsen, a 2020 NCAA qualifier, and Christian Lance return as two starters who gained significant dual experience last season. Rounding out the group are Caleb Licking, Jevon Parrish and Colton Wolfe who have a combined 3-7 record in duals.

Nebraska and Minnesota meet for the 74th time in series history on Friday. The Golden Gophers lead the all-time series 50-23, but the Huskers have won the last four matchups. In the last meeting between the two teams, Nebraska earned a 29-12 victory to close the regular season on a six dual win streak. NU won seven of 10 bouts to extend their momentum heading into the conference championship.

The dual is one of three home contests the Huskers host at the Devaney Center this season. The team welcomes Northwestern and Maryland on Jan. 23 for a tri-meet and closes the home slate with Wisconsin on Jan. 31.

Scouting Minnesota

Minnesota opens the 2021 season ranked 12th nationally in the NWCA Coaches Poll. Last season, the Golden Gophers finished 9-8 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten. The team placed eighth at the 2020 Big Ten Championships with 63.5 points and qualified eight wrestlers for the cancelled NCAA Championships.

The team returns two first-team All-Americans this season in Brayton Lee (149) and Gable Steveson (HWT).  Steveson took home the heavyweight title at the 2020 Big Ten Championships and finished the season undefeated through 12 duals. Lee finished fourth at the conference championship and posted an 11-4 dual meet record for the year.

Looking Back at Last Season

Nebraska finished the 2019-20 season No. 4 in the final national dual rankings with an 11-3 record. Nebraska earned a 6-3 mark in Big Ten duals, tying for fourth in the regular-season Big Ten standings. The Huskers posted a 6-5 record against ranked opponents.

The Huskers finished second with 132 points at the 2020 Big Ten Championships, the program’s best finish as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Eric Schultz (2nd — 197 pounds) was the top individual finisher for Nebraska. Chad Red Jr. (141), Collin Purinton (149), Peyton Robb (157), Isaiah White (165) and Taylor Venz (184) placed third in their respective weight classes.

Following the conclusion of the season, eight Huskers earned All-America honors. Chad Red Jr., Isaiah White, Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz rounded out the Huskers on the first-team. Collin Purinton and Mikey Labriola earned second-team honors. Ridge Lovett and Peyton Robb picked up honorable mention recognition.

Huskers to Face Abbreviated Schedule

Nebraska posted an 11-3 dual record in 2019-20, its tenth consecutive winning season and 31st winning season in the last 33 years. This year, the Huskers look to continue that streak and build off a second-place finish at the 2020 Big Ten Championships.

NU meets nine opponents in this season’s condensed conference-only schedule. The home schedule is highlighted by duals against Minnesota (Jan. 8) and Wisconsin (Jan. 31). Nebraska will host a triangular meet with Maryland and Northwestern on Jan. 23.

Nebraska faces a challenging road schedule with notable trips to Iowa (Jan. 15), Indiana (Feb. 6) and Illinois (Feb. 21). The Huskers compete in a quad-dual in Bloomington where the team will face the Hoosiers, Rutgers and Michigan.

Veteran Group Returns to Lead NU

Nebraska will be guided by a strong group of veteran returners for the 2020-21 campaign. The Huskers lose just two senior starters as they get set for this year’s campaign. Collin Purinton (149) went 18-9 overall in his senior season and Isaiah White (165) recorded a 20-4 record. Both earned All-America honors with third-place finishes at the 2020 Big Ten Championships in their respective weight classes. David Jensen (HWT), Zak Hensley (133), Kyle Ruettiger (157) and Cade Svoboda (197) added depth.

The Huskers qualified all 10 roster spots for the 2020 NCAA Championships before the event’s cancellation due to the coronavirus pandemic. Seven of those qualifiers, and six All-Americans, return to the mat for NU this season. The senior class touts three returning All-Americans in Chad Red Jr. (141), Eric Schultz (197) and Taylor Venz (184). Red Jr. picked up his third All-America honor after earning a 15-6 overall record and a third-place finish at the 2020 Big Ten Championships. Schultz recorded the highest Husker finish at the conference championships, finishing second and earning his first All-America honor. Earning All-America honors for the second time in his career, Venz finished third at the Big Ten Championships and finished the season with a 16-8 overall record. Junior Mikey Labriola (174) capped off his second season at NU with a sixth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships, securing a 17-7 overall record and a second All-America nod. Sophomores Ridge Lovett (133) and Peyton Robb (157) garnered their first All-America honors with seventh and third-place finishes at the conference championships, respectively.

Huskers Aim For Sixth Straight Top-10 Finish

The cancellation of the 2020 NCAA Championships due to the coronavirus pandemic kept Nebraska from trying for its sixth straight top-10 NCAA finish last season. Since 1980, Nebraska has finished as one of the top-10 teams at the NCAA Championships 17 times.

Categories: Husker Sports, Sports