Day One of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships is in the books at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. Saturday’s action concluded with seven Nebraska wrestlers still alive for Day Two action.
The Nebraska wrestling squad currently sits in sixth place in the team score, with 54 points, three behind fifth place Minnesota.
Ohio State leads all teams with 137.5 points, while Penn State is in second with 124. Combined, the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have 12 of the 20 finalists.
Four Huskers can place as high as third in Sunday’s placement matches, while three will wrestle for seventh place.
Nebraska also had six wrestlers clinch automatic bids for the NCAA Championships in Cleveland on March 15-17.
Jason Renteria (133) punched his ticket after advancing to the semifinals during Session I, while Chad Red Jr. (141), Colton McCrystal (149), Tyler Berger (157), Isaiah White (165) and Taylor Venz (184) all clinched bids in Saturday’s wrestlebacks.
Nebraska had a successful first round of the conference tournament, advancing seven of its 10 wrestlers to the quarterfinal round.
The Huskers rattled off five straight wins as a team from 133 to 165 pounds. Renteria earned his third pin fall of the season in just his eighth match, pinning Logan Griffin of Michigan State in 3:57. This was Renteria’s second pin against Griffin this year.
McCrystal also picked up bonus points against a Spartan with a 17-5 major decision against No. 13 seed Jwan Britton of Michigan State.
Nebraska nearly had a quarterfinalist at 174 pounds. Redshirt freshman Beau Breske pushed No. 7 seed Joey Gunther of Iowa deep into overtime, but couldn’t get the edge.
With the match tied 2-2 after two sudden-victory and two 30-second tiebreaker periods, another tiebreaker period was needed. Both wrestlers earned escapes with less than 10 seconds remaining, but Gunther’s hand was raised with an advantage in riding time during the six overtime periods.
Overall, the Huskers went 6-3 in the opening round, with No. 6 seed Venz having a first-round bye at 184 pounds.
As a team, Nebraska was in a three-way tie for fourth place through the first round, however its early success came to a halt in the quarterfinals.
Before the Huskers’ momentum collapsed, Renteria advanced to the semifinals with a takedown moments before the final regulation buzzer. His victory would be the last for Nebraska in the quarterfinal round.
The six remaining Huskers in the championship brackets all lost. Five of those losses were decided by three points or less.
At 141 pounds, No. 4 seed Red couldn’t hang on to an early lead, losing to No. 5 seed Nate Limmex of Purdue for the second time this season.
The Huskers’ two captains both suffered one-point losses in their respective matches.
Senior captain McCrystal, the fourth seed at 149 pounds, scored an escape and a takedown in closing seconds, but lost by decision to No. 5 seed Ke-Shawn Hayes of Ohio State, 7-6.
In a matchup between returning NCAA All-Americans, No. 5 seed Berger of Nebraska lost by decision, 4-3, against No. 4 seed Bo Jordan of Ohio State.
White, a sophomore, and redshirt freshmen Venz and Schultz also lost their quarterfinals match.
Despite the streak of losses, the six Nebraska wrestlers that didn’t advance in the championship bracket were still alive in competition, dropping down to the consolation matches.
Of the three Huskers that lost in the first round, sophomore David Jensen was the only wrestler that won in the opening round of wrestlebacks.
Not seeded in the heavyweight division, Jensen defeated Deuce Rachal of Illinois by decision 7-4 to advance in the consolation bracket.
Nebraska senior and No. 11 seed Mitchell Maginnis was eliminated at 125 pounds following a 12-3 major decision loss against No. 14 seed Carson Kuhn of Penn State. Kuhn defeated Maginnis again Saturday evening in the wrestlebacks for ninth place. With the loss, Maginnis’ Nebraska career is over.
After losing a tough first round match in overtime, Breske suffered another crushing loss, this time season ending, in his consolation match.
Up 10-2 late in the third period, Breske was moments away from a major decision victory when his opponent Josh Ugalde of Maryland scored a takedown and pinned Breske just seconds later.
The first-year starter struggled in the second half of the season, losing his final nine matches. No more than two points decided the final score in four of those matches.
At the end of Session I, Nebraska was in 10th place with 16.5 points.
Some of the success Nebraska had earlier in Session I returned in Session II Saturday evening, as the Huskers won their first six matches in the second round of wrestlebacks.
After Red escaped with a narrow 2-0 victory against Alex McKenna of Northwestern at 141 pounds, McCrystal wasted little time to win his match at 149 pounds.
McCrystal earned the first period pin fall against Purdue’s Austin Nash.
Following a victory from Berger at 157 pounds, Nebraska rattled off three consecutive major decisions bye White, Venz and Schultz.
In the heavyweight division, No. 5 seed Yousiff Hemida of Maryland eliminated Jensen. Hemida pinned Jensen in 45 seconds.
In the championship bracket, Nebraska’s lone semifinalist, Renteria, lost by major decision 16-3 against the top seeded Stevan Micic. This was Renteria’s second loss to Micic this season.
Renteria’s loss also meant Nebraska would not have a conference champion for the third consecutive year. Its last Big Ten Champion was Robert Kokesh (174) in 2015.
Nebraska still had six wrestlers competing in the third round of their respective consolation brackets, each fighting for placings.
Red lost his second match of the day, dropping a 5-4 decision against Vince Turk of Iowa. Red will wrestle for seventh place against Ryan Diehl of Maryland on Sunday.
The Huskers’ two remaining upperclassmen finished Day One of competition with victories. McCrystal, a senior, defeated No. 9 seed Steve Bleise of Minnesota, 8-5, and Berger, a junior, defeated No. 8 seed John Van Brill of Rutgers, 5-1.
Both McCrystal and Berger advanced to the consolation semifinals with a chance for third place at their weights.
At 165 pounds, White lost a rematch against No. 5 seed Evan Wick of Wisconsin by decision 3-1. White upset Wick in a dual against Wisconsin on Feb. 9. White will wrestle for seventh place against No. 6 seed Nick Wanzek of Minnesota.
Venz picked up his third win of the season against Wisconsin’s Ricky Robertson, this time by major decision 11-1 at 184 pounds. Venz finished the match with 4:30 of riding time. Venz advanced to the consolation championships, with a third-place finish on the line.
Needing a win to clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, Schultz was pinned by Wisconsin’s Hunter Ritter in 2:08. There is still a likely chance Schultz earns an at-large bid.
Session III begins at 11 a.m. Sunday morning, followed by Session IV at 2 p.m. The championship matches in the final session will be televised on BTN.
Cody is a senior journalism major at UNL. He grew up in Fairview, SD, a town of less than 70 people. Cody has covered a variety of Husker athletics, ranging from bowling to football. He has a passion for sports and an interest in telling stories and has developed a knack for sports data and looking deeper into statistics. He’s a fan of all Colorado sports teams. Cody and his fiancée Kaitlyn are engaged to be married in July 2018.