Nebraska’s much lauded No. 5 wrestling team got off to a great start in the season opener on Friday, defeating No. 13 Minnesota 22-14 at the Devaney Center.
The match started at the 125-pound weight class, where the Huskers' No. 18 senior Liam Cronin, a transfer from Indiana, faced the Golden Gophers’ No. 19 redshirt sophomore Patrick McKee in the first of two ranked matchups Friday night. Cronin got off to a dominant start with an escape, takedown and near fall points giving him an 8-0 advantage after two periods. Cronin held on for an 8-1 victory by decision in his first match as a Husker and gave Nebraska an early 3-0 lead.
Minnesota bounced back and got their first win of the night in the 133-pound weight class, where Golden Gopher senior Boo Dryden dominated No. 15 sophomore Alex Thomsen using a takedown and a 4-point near fall to take the 9-2 decision and tie the match at 3.
In the 141-pound weight class, Nebraska senior CJ Red Jr. got off to a hot start against Minnesota redshirt freshman Marcos Polanco, getting a takedown 15 seconds into the first period en-route to a 4-1 win by decision, which gave Nebraska a 6-3 lead. Freshman Brock Hardy would extend the lead for the Huskers, with two takedowns and a four-point near fall leading to a 9-2 win by decision over Minnesota’s No. 12 sophomore Michael Blockhus. Hardy, a 20-year-old freshman for the Huskers, had spent the last two years on a mission trip in Brazil and was one of the most impressive wrestlers of the night on his return to the mat, giving Nebraska a 9-3 lead.
Minnesota got a much needed boost in the 157-pound weight class. Golden Gopher redshirt sophomore No. 6 Brayton Lee had a hard fought match against Nebraska senior Caleb Licking, with both wrestlers scoreless after one period and tied at 2 at the end of the second period. However, the third period was dominated by Lee, who had multiple takedowns to defeat Licking in a 10-5 decision, and cut Nebraska’s lead to 9-6.
Minnesota’s good fortunes continued at the 165-pound weight class in what was the most exciting match of the night between No. 10 sophomore Peyton Robb for Nebraska and No. 19 Andrew Sparks for Minnesota. In the second ranked match of the night, the true freshman Sparks got a crucial takedown with under a second left in the second period to cut Robb’s lead to 5-4. In the third period, Robb managed a pivotal escape with seven seconds to go to make it 7-6 in favor of Sparks, and had a near takedown as time expired. Upon review, the referees did not give Robb the takedown and Minnesota tied the match at 9.
Nebraska would take control of the match again at the 174-pound weight class, with No. 4 junior Mikey Labriola getting a full pin on Minnesota redshirt junior Jake Allar with 43 seconds left in the third period to put the Huskers back in front 15-9. Nebraska would extend its lead in the 184-pound weight class with freshman Nathan Haas filling in for All-American No. 7 senior Taylor Renz, who was out for undisclosed reasons. Haas was in total control of his match against No. 20 senior Owen Webster, having over three minutes of riding time in his 5-2 win by decision and extending the Husker lead to 18-9.
Minnesota needed a win at the 197-pound weight class to stay in the match, but No. 2 senior Eric Schultz shut the door on the potential of any Gopher comeback. Schultz’ near-pin on Minnesota redshirt sophomore Garrett Joles with five seconds to go led to a 14-3 win by major decision, giving the Huskers a 22-9 advantage that all-but ensured their victory.
At the heavyweight class, Minnesota’s No. 1 junior Gable Stevenson put on a show against Nebraska senior Christian Lance, dominating his way to a 23-8 win by major decision.
No. 5 Nebraska will look to continue their hot start against Iowa on Jan. 15.