The Nebraska wrestling squad concluded the Big Ten dual slate two weeks ago with its second-best conference record in its seven years as a member.
Prior to their final regular-season dual against Stanford last Friday, the Huskers defeated No. 20 Wisconsin, 24-10, on Feb. 9 to finish with a 7-2 (0.778) record in conference duals this season.
Their best Big Ten winning percentage occurred in 2015, when the team finished 8-1 (0.889) in conference duals.
Wins don’t come easy in the nation’s premier wrestling conference. Any record above 0.500 in the Big Ten should be considered a success, but Nebraska’s conference season was nothing short of a rollercoaster.
Slow starts, comeback victories and a handful of upsets—both good and bad—filled the five-week stretch.
Nebraska, now ranked 13th in the USA Today/NWCA Coaches Poll, began its conference schedule on the road against Illinois on Jan. 5. The Huskers and Fighting Illini traded wins back-and-forth for much of the dual, but ultimately needed criteria to determine a winner.
Tied 17-17 after all 10 bouts, Illinois was given the victory with an edge in total match points 51-49.
Nebraska’s loss against Illinois was its third in a row overall at the time, with losses to North Carolina State and North Carolina three weeks prior.
The Huskers snapped their three-dual skid with a 48-3 thumping of Maryland. Nebraska recorded four pins against the Terrapins, including three straight to end the dual.
The blowout victory jumpstarted a five dual win streak for the Huskers. No more than six points decided the rest of the victories in the streak, and Nebraska trailed by at least nine points in three of them before coming back.
The Huskers used a strong start and finish to edge No. 22 Purdue 20-15 for their second straight win.
Criteria was needed to defeat No. 20 Northwestern for Nebraska’s third consecutive win.
The Wildcats took an early 10-0 lead against the Huskers, winning the first three matches. Nebraska battled back by winning five of the final seven to tie the dual at 18-18. The Huskers finished with the edge in total match points 68-66.
It was a similar story for Nebraska’s last two duals of its win streak.
Three matches in, the Huskers trailed 9-0 against No. 16 Rutgers and 12-0 against Indiana, but somehow found a way to finish both duals with a win.
Nebraska won six of the final seven matches against the Scarlet Knights to win 19-13. Four bonus-point wins against the Hoosiers aided the Huskers to a 23-18 victory, the fifth and final of the midseason streak.
Facing highly ranked teams isn’t uncommon in the Big Ten, however, depending how you look at it, Nebraska got lucky with No. 4 Michigan being its only top-10 conference opponent this season.
The Wolverines ended the Huskers winning streak with a 24-10 victory in Ann Arbor.
Michigan proved its superiority by winning four of the five top-20 matchups.
Nebraska didn’t let the tough defeat hold them down. The Huskers bounced back with a 35-6 win against Michigan State that same weekend before concluding the Big Ten season with a victory in Wisconsin five days later.
Combined, the Huskers went 53-37 in their conference matches. Just nine of those victories were against wrestlers in the InterMat rankings, but 23 of their losses—nearly two-thirds—were also against ranked opponents.
However, of those 23 losses to ranked foes, just seven were “bad losses,” or a defeat from a lesser-ranked wrestler. So, Nebraska did a decent job of winning the matches it was favored in.
A positive storyline for the Huskers during the conference slate was the emergence of true-freshman Jason Renteria, a starter at 133 pounds.
After battling issues with weight control early in the season, Renteria made his first start against Maryland, pinning Danny Bertoni in the first period. Renteria’s next two starts—and victories—came against ranked opponents.
Renteria has since slipped out of the rankings, but is still a threat for the Huskers at that weight as the postseason tournaments approach.
Three wrestlers tied for the most wins on the team during the Big Ten season, including the two upperclassmen captains. Senior Colton McCrystal (149), junior Tyler Berger (157) and redshirt freshman Eric Schultz (197) each recorded seven victories.
Three more wrestlers finished with six wins, including redshirt freshman Chad Red Jr., ranked No. 12 at 141 pounds. Red faced just one ranked opponent during the Big Ten season, No. 20 Cole Weaver of Indiana, but lost 6-5 in tiebreaker-1.
Red was upset twice more, dropping decisions against Mike Carr of Illinois and Nate Limmex of Purdue.
Red will likely get a chance to avenge some of his conference losses at the Big Ten Championships on March 3-4.
As a team, Nebraska should have no shortage of confidence heading into the conference tournament winning eight of their last nine duals overall.
History has proven though that anything can, and will, happen when it comes to postseason wrestling.