3x All-American Chad Red (left) and Kizhan Clarke (Red photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com/Clarke photo courtesy of Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)
InterMat's Big Ten Spotlight Matchup:
141 lbs: #13 Kizhan Clarke (North Carolina) vs. #5 Chad Red Jr. (Nebraska)
How to Watch: November 17th, Big Ten Network (9pm EST)
Tonight, the #15 North Carolina Tar Heels will travel to Big Ten country to face the #9 Nebraska Cornhuskers in an early-season non-conference scrap that features a handful of excellent bouts. The most notable of which is at 141 lbs, where a pair of top-15 ranked wrestlers are slated to do battle.
Chad Red Jr. is a sixth-year senior that comes in with three NCAA All-American honors to his credit. Red Jr. was seventh as a freshman, eighth as a sophomore, and finished sixth at the 2021 NCAA Championships in St. Louis.
Because of the Big Ten's depth at 141 lbs, sometimes Red Jr. gets overlooked as a national title contender. For instance, all four wrestlers currently ranked above the Husker veteran are from the conference. Red Jr.'s best Big Ten finish came in 2019 as he made the finals of the conference tournament. He is still seeking a return trip to the Big Ten championship bout, having taken third and fourth in the subsequent seasons.
Red Jr's 2021-22 campaign kicked off last Thursday as he helped lead Nebraska to a route of DII powerhouse Nebraska-Kearney. He was one of five Huskers that recorded falls in the meet. Red's Jr's pin came in the third period against DII All-American, Nick James.
The 141 lber is one of the more dangerous wrestlers in the nation. His fall over James was his 20th collegiate pin. To secure All-American honors as a freshman, Red Jr. pinned two-time defending NCAA champion Dean Heil (Oklahoma State) in the Round of 12.
Red Jr.'s first significant test of the season will come from North Carolina's Kizhan Clarke. Clarke is a new addition to the UNC lineup after joining as a graduate transfer in the offseason. Prior to his arrival in Chapel Hill, Clarke amassed an 80-33 record competing for American University in Washington DC.
While Clarke had winning seasons as a freshman and sophomore, his breakout campaign was his junior year when he went 37-7 and took fifth at the Midlands. Later that year, Clarke took fourth in the EIWA and was slated to receive the 15th seed at the ill-fated 2020 NCAA Championships.
Clarke never saw the mat for American in 2021 as the school did not compete at all prior to the postseason, due to Covid-related issues or regulations.
Now with North Carolina, Clarke had dropped down from 149 lbs to 141, a weight he last wrestled as a freshman. Early returns have been positive, as Clarke is 3-0 for UNC. In his most recent dual, he took out another Big Ten foe, Jordan Decatur (Ohio State), with a takedown in sudden victory.
The rest of the dual:
125: Nebraska has a veteran at the weight in #17 Liam Cronin; however, Cronin did not participate in last week's two duals. North Carolina is expected to send out true freshman Spencer Moore, who is currently 6-3.
133: #10 Jaime Hernandez was an ACC runner-up in 2020 for North Carolina and is unbeaten in limited action. Nebraska has plenty of options at this weight as #30 Alex Thomsen, Tucker Sjomeling, and Dominick Serrano are all very capable.
149: Another headline bout in this dual takes place at 149 with #6 Zach Sherman (North Carolina) and #14 Ridge Lovett (Nebraska). Sherman is one of the Tar Heels two returning All-Americans, while Lovett was a surprise Big Ten finalist in 2021.
157: North Carolina boasts a returning national champion, #2 Austin O'Connor, at this weight. O'Connor was an undefeated champion last season at 149, but has since moved up without issue. He'll get his first test of the year with 2021 U23 World Team member #16 Peyton Robb.
165: A pair of young wrestlers, ready to break into the national rankings are tabbed to meet at 165, with Sonny Santiago (North Carolina) taking on Bubba Wilson (Nebraska). Santiago recently finished third at the Wolfpack Open, while Wilson is trying to rebound from a loss suffered during the Nebraska-Kearney dual.
174: Nebraska's top grappler, #3 Mikey Labriola, is at 174; however, he did not compete last week. In his absence, Tahjae Jenkins-Harris filled in and went 1-1. North Carolina counters with a talented freshman in #22 Gavin Kane, who was a finalist at the Wolfpack Open and may have secured the starting spot from a decorated, returning starter.
184: Aside from Red, the most dangerous bonus-point threat in Nebraska's lineup is All-American #10 Taylor Venz. True to form, Venz captured a pair of wins by fall in the Huskers season-opening duals last week. Attempting to avoid his back is 2020 ACC runner-up #22 Clay Lautt, who has twice qualified for the NCAA Championships.
197: Two-time Big Ten runner-up #12 Eric Schultz helps anchor the Husker lineup at 197 lbs. Schultz has twice earned top-three seeds at the NCAA Championships, yet is looking to stand on the podium for the first time. The 2020 tournament was canceled and last year, he was pinned in the opening round, then won a pair of bouts before his elimination. North Carolina has a returning qualifier in #27, Max Shaw, at this weight. He saw action in North Carolina's first dual of the year, but hasn't been in the lineup since. If he's unable to go, look for UNC to turn to Mark Chaid.
285: #13 Christian Lance is the final piece of a balanced Nebraska lineup. Lance emerged as the team's starter in 2021 after dealing with some tough internal competition. He ended up fifth in a stacked Big Ten weight class and received the 12th seed at nationals. His opponent is likely to be Brandon Whitman. Whitman qualified for the NCAA Championships in 2019 as a true freshman at 197 lbs. So far in 2021-22, Whitman captured a pair of wins before facing Ohio State All-American Tate Orndorff. The Tar Heel big man fought valiantly, but was on the wrong end of a 2-0 decision.