The Nebraska wrestling team will hold Wrestle-Offs, free to the public, this Friday at the Devaney Center.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

2017-18 Season Preview: Huskers Seek Fourth Straight Top-10 Finish

By NU Athletic Communications

The Nebraska wrestling team embarks on its quest for a fourth consecutive top-10 NCAA finish this season by hosting its annual Intrasquad Wrestle-Offs this Friday, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center. The event is open to the public and is free to attend, and will give fans their first look at the 2017-18 squad.

The Huskers will compete at the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open in Brookings, S.D., next Sunday, Nov. 5, before opening the dual season with a home contest against Wyoming on Friday, Nov. 17. Season and single-match tickets for the 2017-18 season go on sale this Friday, and can be purchased at Huskers.com/Tickets or by calling 1-800-8-BIG-RED.

Get up to speed on news and notes from Nebraska wrestling heading into the 2017-18 season by reading the season preview below.

Nebraska To Face Strong Dual Schedule
Nebraska posted a 12-4 dual record in 2016-17, its seventh consecutive winning season and 28th winning season in the last 30 years. This winter, the Huskers will look to continue that streak, as they will be tested by a dual schedule designed to have them ready for postseason action. The home schedule will be highlighted by matchups against 2017 NCAA Championships top-25 finishers North Carolina State, Rutgers and Wyoming. Maryland, Purdue and Indiana will also visit in Big Ten competition. In non-conference action, the Huskers will also host North Carolina. Nebraska will travel to last year’s top-25 finishers Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin in Big Ten action, and end the season with a road trip to Stanford. The Huskers will also travel to West Virginia, Northwestern and Michigan State this season. In tournament action, NU will open the season with the Warren Williamson/Daktronics Open on Nov. 5, and will again travel to the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational Dec. 1-2 after a two-year hiatus. The Big Ten Championships will take place March 3-4 in East Lansing, Mich., where the Huskers will look to improve on two straight fourth-place finishes. The NCAA Championships are set for March 15-17 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, as NU will look to make it four consecutive top-10 national finishes.

All-American Berger Returns Looking for More
Nebraska’s lone returning All-American Tyler Berger returns as a junior looking to take the next step and join an elite list of multiple-time All-Americans. The 157-pounder took fifth at the NCAA Championships last season, continuing a string of success at that weight in recent years, as the Huskers have had an All-American at 157 in five of the past seven seasons. Berger, from Prineville, Ore., was Nebraska’s wins leader with 36 last season, giving him a career record of 60-19 to put him on pace to be the next member of Nebraska’s 100-win club. Of Berger’s six losses last season, five of them came to either Jason Nolf of Penn State or Michael Kemerer of Iowa, the top two seeds at the NCAA Championships. Berger, a two-time NCAA Championships qualifier, finished third at the Big Ten Championships last season. Nebraska also returns an NCAA qualifier in senior Colton McCrystal, who advanced to the Round of 12 at 141 pounds last year. He also finished third at the Big Ten Championships, while racking up the second-most wins on the team with 34, with 17 coming by bonus points. McCrystal is set to compete at 149 this season.

Huskers Seek New Contributors
With six starters from a season ago lost to graduation, including three All-Americans, Nebraska’s 10 weight classes will look dramatically different from 2016-17. With just two NCAA qualifiers returning from last year’s team, the Huskers will be evaluating each weight class in practice, Wrestle-Offs and open tournaments before the start of the dual season on Nov. 17. At 141 pounds, Chad Red Jr., a highly touted recruit who had a strong redshirt season, should get the call, while Isaiah White, who transferred to Nebraska in the offseason after winning the Division II national championship in 2017, is the favorite to be Nebraska’s starter at 165. Nebraska will also look to replace starters at the two lowest weight classes, 125 and 133, and the four upper weights, 174, 184, 197 and heavyweight. Redshirt freshmen Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz look to have the inside track at 184 and 197 pounds, but open competition at each weight class will be productive for the Huskers as the season gets started.

Seniors Hope for Four Straight Top-10 Finishes
Nebraska’s four-member senior class of Justin Arthur, Eric Engler, Mitchell Maginnis and Colton McCrystal enter the 2017-18 season looking to make sure that Nebraska’s streak of three consecutive top-10 NCAA finishes does not end this season. McCrystal, an NCAA qualifier a season ago, is slotted to be in the starting lineup at either 141 or 149 pounds this season. Justin Arthur, who qualified for the NCAA Championships as a freshman at Clarion in 2014, is also listed at 149 pounds for the Huskers this season, while Maginnis (125) and Engler (174) have been working hard to see action in the Husker starting lineups for four years, and are hungry to break into the rotation this year. Nebraska’s senior day will be held Sunday, Jan. 28, when the Huskers host Indiana at the Devaney Center.

Huskers Bring Back Dual Experience
Nebraska returns eight wrestlers with dual experience this season, including All-American Tyler Berger and NCAA qualifier Colton McCrystal. Both Berger and McCrystal racked up over 30 wins for the Huskers in 2017. Collin Purinton (149), Jordan Shearer (149), Justin Arthur (149), Dustin Williams (165), Eric Engler (174) and David Jensen (HWT) each saw action in dual meets for the Huskers last season, and look to contribute again this year. In addition to Berger and McCrystal, Purinton and Williams were starters for NU at the Big Ten Championships last season.

Redshirt Freshmen Plan to Step Up
Nebraska’s redshirt freshmen will be relied upon to jump into the starting lineup this season, after gaining valuable experience in 2016-17. A total of 10 wrestlers redshirted for the Huskers last season, and look to compete to see action on the mat in 2017-18. Chad Red Jr. (141), Beau Breske (174), Taylor Venz (184) and Eric Schultz (197) are each primed to make the jump from redshirt seasons to spots in NU’s dual lineup. Zemua Baptista (149), Luke Weber (149), Caleb Licking (157), Johnny Blankenship (165) and Dalton Peters (165) were other redshirts that posted winning records last season and are looking to take a step forward in 2017-18.

Nebraska Welcomes Strong Crop of Newcomers
Nebraska’s incoming class of newcomers features 12 wrestlers, including three transfers and nine true freshmen. Highlighting the class is 165-pounder Isaiah White, who won the NCAA Division II national championship at 165 pounds at Notre Dame College in Ohio in 2017. At 174 pounds, Mikey Labriola was the fifth-rated recruit in the Class of 2017 Big Board by FloWrestling following a prep career in which he racked up two Pennsylvania state championships. At 133, Jason Renteria was the 32nd-ranked wrestler in the Class of 2017 by FloWrestling, and was a two-time Illinois state champion as a high school wrestler. Junior Zak Hensley was the NJCAA runner-up at 133 pounds for Iowa Central Community College last season, and will be immediately eligible to compete for the Huskers this season. Other newcomers to this class include redshirt freshman Zemua Baptista, freshmen Dylan Gowin, Christian Miller, Trevor Nichelson, Andrew Nielsen, Tucker Sjomeling, Colton Wolfe and Wyatt Wriedt. In all, the class of newcomers won a total of 27 high school state championships.

Roster Notes

  • Nebraska features a 37-wrestler roster as it begins official practice.
  • Over two-thirds of the Huskers’ 2017-18 roster are underclassmen, as 26 of Nebraska’s 37 wrestlers are either freshmen or sophomores.
  • Included in Nebraska’s roster are also four seniors and seven juniors
  • Fifteen Huskers on this season’s roster are returning letterwinners
  • This year’s Huskers come from 16 states, and 11 are Nebraska natives

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