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Nebraska entered the 2019 Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invite as an early favorite on paper. The Huskers had All-Americans Chad Red, Mikey Labriola, Isaiah White, and Taylor Venz competing. They were also returning Eric Schultz from the season before. Nebraska had a total of seven ranked wrestlers entering the meet. They were riding an emotional high after defeating #3 UNI a week before.
To win CKLV, though, they were going to need other guys to step up.
There has been a lot of anticipation for Nebraska freshman Ridge Lovett. The Idaho native made his varsity debut at UNI and fell 8-2 to Jack Skudlarczyk. But this weekend at Cliff Keen was his coming out party. He was the first Husker to compete on Friday and with a tough matchup against #10 Taylor LaMont from Utah Valley.
After a scoreless first period, LaMont chose bottom to try and get an escape. It was Lovett who was able to draw first blood, though, as he locked up a cradle and picked up four near fall points. That was all Lovett needed as he added riding time and a stalling point to take out the three seed, 6-1. That set the tone for the Huskers as they went on to go undefeated through the first two rounds, going 19-0.
"Ridge is tough and resilient," said associate head coach Bryan Snyder. "He bounced back after a tough loss in the dual to put together a nice tournament. He went out and beat a highly seeded and respected guy in the first round which really kind of sparked the team. He battled and when he lost in semis he put it behind him and went out and won both consolation matches, including getting a pin. . . . I really don’t think we win the tournament with him."
As the Huskers headed into quarterfinals, Lovett again set the tone. Down 4-1 early to the 11 seed Louie Hayes from Virginia, Lovett battled back and won the match 8-7 picking up the deciding point on ride time. He was the first of five Huskers to make the semifinals. The Huskers closed out Friday night with a 69-68 lead over Ohio State.
On Saturday, the semifinals came around and Lovett found himself going up against #7 Montorie Bridges from Wyoming. Lovett battled hard but fell 5-1 and had to go to the consolations. Nebraska only ended up getting one wrestler to finals in Isaiah White at 165 pounds. For Nebraska to hold onto the lead, they were going to need to pick up a lot of points on the backside.
Lovett came through. In the consolation semifinals, he got a first-period pin of Mosha Schwartz from Northern Colorado. He went on to wrestle Todd Small from Iowa State for third place, and Lovett locked up a leg cradle to take an early 6-0 lead. That proved to be enough as Lovett won third place with a 7-1 decision.
Lovett continuously set the tone for Nebraska as the Huskers went on throughout the tournament. He was one of nine wrestlers to place over the weekend in Vegas on their way to the team's first-place finish. This is Nebraska's third Cliff Keen Invite championship.