Through the first month of the season, redshirt freshmen Taylor Venz and Eric Schultz have done a nice job filling some big shoes in Nebraska’s lineup.
Venz has taken over the starting spot at 184 pounds, which had been occupied the previous four years by TJ Dudley, who graduated as a three-time All-American. Schultz is the new starter by 197, where Aaron Studebaker finished fifth at nationals last season.
“(Venz) and Eric Schultz are go-getters,” coach Mark Manning said. “They’re very aggressive, really working hard the whole match and trying to put a lot of points on the board.”
Venz is off to a 6-0 start, earning bonus points in all six victories — he has three pins, two technical falls and a major decision. Schultz is 4-1, his lone loss being 6-5 in a tiebreaker to South Dakota State’s Nate Rotert, who is ranked seventh in the country.
Dudley practiced with Venz and Schultz last season.
“That went a long way in preparing them for this year, and they kind of picked up where (Dudley and Studebaker) left off,” Manning said.
Now the freshmen face their biggest challenge of the season as the 13th-ranked Huskers compete at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. The tournament begins at 11 a.m. Friday with the finals starting at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Forty-six teams, including 14 in the NWCA Top 25, and more than 100 nationally ranked wrestlers will compete. The teams include No. 2 Ohio State, No. 8 Minnesota, No. 9 Michigan, No. 10 Virginia Tech and No. 12 Arizona State.
“There’s a lot of good competition, so it’s going to give us the opportunity to see where some of these guys are nationally and just a good opportunity to test themselves,” Manning said.
Four Huskers enter the tournament in the top 11 in the InterMat individual rankings. Tyler Berger, who is fourth at 157, leads the way, followed by Colton McCrystal (fifth at 149), CJ Red (seventh at 141) and Isaiah White (11th at 165). Venz and Schultz aren’t ranked, but quality wins this weekend could move them in next week.
Also making his debut as a Husker starter will be Beau Breske, a redshirt freshman from Hartford, Wisconsin, at 174. Breske was FloWrestling’s No. 2 recruit at his weight class in 2016.
“Really excited for him and I know he’s ready to go,” Manning said.