2023-24 Nebraska Wrestling

Nebraska Wrestling Analyzing 'Data Dump' From CKLV

Nebraska Wrestling Analyzing 'Data Dump' From CKLV

After a runner-up finish at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, Nebraska wrestling is analyzing what went right and what needs to be fixed.

Dec 6, 2023 by Dylan Guenther
Nebraska Wrestling Analyzing 'Data Dump' From CKLV

The Cliff Keen Invitational has become a sort of measuring stick that the Huskers have used each year to see where they stack up against the rest of the country’s elites.

Nebraska entered Vegas as the three-time defending team champs but ultimately finished second behind Iowa State by five points. The Huskers crowned two champs in Ridge Lovett and Peyton Robb with four other placers.

“Our goal is to win it every year, especially when we have a team like we do. For that to happen, we’ve got to have 10 bullets firing and scoring points,” Nebraska associate head coach Bryan Snyder said. “We had six guys score a lot of points for us. You can Monday morning quarterback it and figure out a million different ways you could have made up five points, but we just didn’t get it done.”

According to Snyder, it’s the information they can extract from those matches that’s most useful as the season progresses on into March. Not only does it show you where you are, it provides a picture of your strengths and vulnerabilities, allowing you to fix those areas.

“That’s how I see Vegas as a whole – just a big freaking data dump. You get all this data on all your guys. How did they wrestle this type of guy or what did they do against this guy?” Snyder said. “You just have so many different data points to look at and say OK, here’s what we did well or here’s where this guy got us. Then the idea is for you to improve and you should get better from all that analysis.”

As a staff, Snyder, along with head coach Mark Manning and assistants James Green and Tervel Dlagnev, have proven themselves as coaches who constantly coax improvement out of their guys. You can point to any number of current and former Huskers who maybe weren’t the highest-ranked guys coming out of high school but went on to illustrious careers in Lincoln.

“We pride ourselves on being a developmental staff, so we spend a lot of time figuring out what our guys need – obviously there’s the question of what does our team need across the board then individually,” Snyder said. 

Nebraska’s Two Champs

Nebraska has two clear national title contenders in #1 Lovett and #3 Robb. At 149 pounds, Lovett downed both #5 Dylan D’Emilio and #3 Caleb Henson on the way to the top of the podium in Vegas, while Robb took out four ranked guys at 157, including #8 Will Lewan and #4 Jacori Teemer in the final.

Both Huskers used a smothering top game to put matches away, even against elite competition. Lovett rode D’Emilio for an absurd 5:21 in their semifinal match then used a takedown and ride out to start his final match against Henson. While in Vegas, Robb collected 22 total near-fall points and racked up 3:18 in riding time against Teemer in the final.

“You look at Peyton and you look at Ridge, their top game was incredible throughout the tournament. They’re riding the best guys in the country and they’re turning a lot of them too.” Snyder said. “I was really happy and impressed with those guys. There’s a few things Peyton could have done better in a couple matches, but he had a very, very solid all-around tournament. I think everybody knows what Ridge is capable of. We really know what he’s capable of. He had a tiny lapse in aggressiveness and controlling ties in the finals and he got stung. When he’s on his game offensively, he’s a dawg, he’s a miserable person to wrestle and he knows it.”

Lovett is now 11-0 on the year with eight bonus-point wins. Robb is 12-0 with nine bonus wis, including six techs.

With takedowns now worth three points, it only seems logical that someone who is an elite top wrestler could choose top for their most advantageous position rather than automatically choosing down for the escape point. Especially if you’re the type that is so good on top that nobody dares choose bottom against you like with Lovett and Robb.

“Choosing top is definitely fair game for a few of our guys, depending on where we’re at and who they’re wrestling,” Snyder said. “There are just certain guys that you would rather have them end the match on top. It’ll be on the table.”

Snyder Believes in Brock

Things didn’t go as well for #6 Brock Hardy at CKLV. After a near flawless first day, Hardy suffered a semifinal slide starting with a loss to #3 Jesse Mendez, finishing in sixth place.

Snyder was obviously disappointed for Hardy, but he knows that in the long run it may have been the best thing for him.

“He’s a guy I’m very close to, and that’s a tough day for him. Brock would tell you right away ‘Hey, there’s no pity party. I have to get better in some areas and I’m going to do it.’ He’s super resilient,” Snyder said. “I’m glad that Brock got exposed because it doesn’t matter if he’s the best guy in the country in December. We want him to be the best guy in the country in March, and absolutely Brock Hardy can win a national title. I always tell Brock that I’m shocked any time he loses because I wrestle with him all the time and I know what he’s capable of.”

One thing Snyder thinks will come as a result of this down weekend is that Hardy is going to come out with an all new attitude.

“There’ll be a better version of Brock Hardy next time you see him and I think you’re going to see a little bit of a pissed off, I’m here to stay Brock Hardy when you see him again,” Snyder said. “It’s tough to bounce back from weekends like that for the average guy, but Brock’s not average. He’s elite. One of the best things is he just doesn’t make excuses. He just knows he has got to get better. This sport strips you raw and you have no one else to blame, and he knows that. He’ll be back.”

Caleb Smith Developing Quickly

In a 125-pound weight class that has seen constant upheaval, #8 Caleb Smith has been putting together an impressive season kind of under the radar. A junior, he’s 12-1 after finishing third at CKLV with wins over #4 Matt Ramos and #14 Brandon Kaylor. His only loss was a 4-1 decision against #10 Jore Volk. 

“One of the things the public doesn’t see about Caleb Smith is he’s an absolute worker — we have to kick him out of the room,” Snyder said of the Appalachian St. transfer. “When Caleb came here, we knew right away this guy is the absolute perfect fit for us. He’s just a worker, he’s blue collar, and he loves to compete.”

Snyder said he really saw Smith grow up and get better just in the span of a couple days in Vegas, likening it to what he saw Robb go through during the 2022 NCAA tournament. 

“We’ve used different people as examples throughout the course of my time here — like do you remember Peyton Robb the year he took fourth at the NCAA tournament? Friday morning, he woke up and his knee was stiff, swollen and he didn’t know if he was going to wrestle and he reeled off four wins that day,” Snyder said. “So, we saw him grow up and get better in the course of a day. And we saw that in Vegas with Caleb Smith, we saw him break through a few positions and some tough areas, and he was just better the next match and better the next match. He’s not someone that struggles with confidence, but anytime you have a weekend like that it can’t help but build your confidence.”

Pinto Wants to Be Great

Another Husker who outwrestled his seed in Vegas was Lenny Pinto. Now ranked #5 at 184, Pinto finished fourth in Vegas. He split matches with #4 Dustin Plott and held #1 Parker Keckeisen to his only decision, an 8-4 loss for Pinto in the semis. 

“Lenny is still raw and he’s getting better. There are just some things that Lenny can do that nobody else can do, so the things that he actually needs work on are the things that are completely under his control – he just needs reps,” Snyder said. “Lenny is very clear in the areas that he needs to get better because if he can do what he does for seven minutes, he’s really tough to beat.”

According to Snyder, it's Pinto’s competitiveness and aspirations that will be the difference in his quest to be the best.

He’s a very good competitor, and that competitiveness moves the needle. Lenny doesn’t just want to be in the conversation, he wants to be the best,” Snyder said. “A lot of that stuff is just a leap of faith, like ‘I can do it for four minutes, I can do it for five minutes, well six minutes is just one more minute, then seven minutes is just one more minute after that,’” Snyder said. “He’s got guys on the team that do it – I mean, Caleb Smith wrestled Ramos for what, 12 to 13 minutes. And he was composed and he was in his stance and he was a dawg the entire time. Peyton Robb had never beaten Will Lewan, and for seven minutes he was just on him – there was no back step. So, he’s got guys that do it in the room.”

Now 10-2 to start the year, Pinto has a great opportunity to get on the podium as a sophomore.