By Arman Kassam
No. 25 Stanford men’s wrestling (9-3, 2-1 Pac-12) gears up for its final dual meet of the season against No. 7 Nebraska (11-5, 5-4 Big-10) in Lincoln. A pair of recent dual meet victories over Oregon State (4-8, 0-2 Pac-12) and Cal Poly (0-8, 0-3 Pac-12) has set the tone for the Cardinal; although the Huskers may be one of the most challenging opponents this team will have to face this season, momentum has been building for a Stanford upset.
Records were broken, history was made and another miracle took place on the mat at Oregon State this past Friday. A 19-16 result marked the first time Stanford had beaten the Beavers away from home. Redshirt senior Mason Pengilly (133 pounds), redshirt sophomore No. 15 Requir van der Merwe (149 pounds) and redshirt senior Paul Fox (157 pounds) all clinched wins.
Sophomore Dominick Mandarino, wrestling at 165 pounds, turned a 1-1 deadlock into a 3-1 victory in overtime, needing only seven seconds to pin opponent Aaron Olmos. Mandarino is now fifth on the team for career wins (31) and is tied for second in wins this season (21).
Fifth-year Rico Stormer (174 pounds) followed up Mandarino’s close-call with one of his own: a 7-6 victory over Colt Doyle. Down three points in the third period, Stormer scored escape points and a last-minute takedown to snatch the win. As of this past Tuesday, Stormer has been named the Pac-12 Wrestler of the Week.
And last but not least, redshirt sophomore and team captain No. 12 Nathan Traxler dominated Jamarcus Grant with a 7-1 result in the 197-pound class, securing the overall victory for the Cardinal.
Two days later, another 32-5 victory against Cal Poly marked head coach Jason Borrelli’s 106th career dual win — the highest of any Stanford coach. Nine out of 10 matches went to Stanford, and seniors Nainoa Calvo, Walker Dempsey, Austin Flores, Paul Fox, Mason Pengilly, Brian Rossi and Rico Stormer were all recognized at the final home match of their careers.
Looking ahead, the Huskers have recently clashed with some of the best programs in the nation, including No. 3 Iowa (14-0, 9-0 Big-10), No. 9 Minnesota (13-3, 6-2 Big-10) and the infamous No. 6 Ohio State (11-2, 7-2 Big-10), and, surprisingly, they have emerged relatively unscathed. Sealing a 21-18 victory over Minnesota, Nebraska rebounded from a 0-14 point deficit by securing six bouts in a row.
Unlike the Oregon State squad that the Cardinal defeated last weekend, this team is filled to the brim with nationally-recognized talent. No. 2 Tyler Berger took down Minnesota’s No. 8 Steve Bleise in the 157-pound class, No. 6 Isaiah White secured major-decision points over Carson Brolsma in the 165-pound class and No. 9 Mikey Labriola edged out No. 12 Devin Skatzka in a 7-6 slugfest at 174 pounds.
In the Huskers’ most recent skirmish against the dreadful Buckeyes, Berger, White and Labriola all came out on top, in addition to No. 16 Zeke Moisey, who took down Malik Hainselman in the 125-pound class. Needless to say, the fact that the Huskers have competition that can stand against one of the best teams in the world — and swipe four matches along the way — is daunting.
Stanford’s last meeting with Nebraska was a little over a year ago on Cardinal territory, when then-seniors Kateon Subjeck and Nathan Butler wrestled in the last dual meet of their careers. The 23-14 result was hard-fought on both sides, and, as expected, both Berger and White claimed wins over their Stanford opponents. However, some key wrestlers were not on the opening roster for that match: Nathan Traxler, Requir van der Merwe and Rico Stormer. Out of four confrontations in the past two decades, the Cardinal has not yet managed to beat Nebraska.
That being said, if any iteration of the Stanford wrestling team has had a solid chance at bringing down this Goliath, then it would be this year’s squad — we have, after all, defeated every other ranked opponent in dual meets this season, from Arizona State (5-10, 2-1 Pac-12) to Oregon State.
Get ready for mayhem on the mat today at 5 p.m. PST in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.