A look back at the countdown so far:
Determining a wrestler’s ceiling can be a difficult proposition, especially when you consider that Nebraska’s wrestlers are at different points in their careers. So different criteria will be used based on what each wrestler has accomplished as well as potential and time left in the program.
For instance, a senior-to-be who’s already secured All-American honors has hit a certain level and maybe has shown more definitively what his ceiling is. On the other hand, an incoming freshman hasn’t accomplished anything at the collegiate level, but their experience and accolades in high school and on the junior circuit can generally give a good indication of how good they can be in college.
Continuing our Top 10 Huskers with the highest ceilings, we move on to sophomore Ridge Lovett.
No. 5 Ridge Lovett
For Ridge Lovett, the plan was to redshirt his freshman season, but that plan was thrown away when the starter in front of him went down with injury. Lovett started as a true freshman and finished with a 17-8 record as well as a seventh-place finish at the Big Ten Tournament and an NCAA qualifying bid.
Before Nebraska, Lovett was a highly sought after recruit. He went a perfect 169-0 in high school with four state titles, even moving up two weight classes from 132 pounds as a junior to 145 pounds as a senior to face better competition. The No. 19 pound-for-pound recruit by FloWrestling in 2019, Lovett also won the 2017 World Team Trials in Akron, Ohio to make the 2017 Cadet World Team. In 2018, Lovett won the Fargo Junior National Championship in Greco-Roman wrestling.
To begin the 2019-20 season, then-sophomore Tucker Sjomeling went down with an injury in the opening tournament, the Daktronics Open, so Lovett was thrust into the starting lineup right away. Lovett went on to win the Daktronics Open before burning his redshirt in an 8-2 loss to Northern Iowa’s Jack Skudlarczyk.
Then at the Cliff Keen Invitational, Lovett went 5-1 to finish third to help the Huskers win the team title. The freshman phenom downed No. 9 Taylor LaMont of Utah Valley 6-1 in the first round before rattling off two more wins. Lovett then lost his lone match to No. 8 Montorie Bridges of Wyoming 5-1 before winning his final two matches.
In the dual season, Lovett had a rough start due to his schedule. After a loss against Oregon State, Lovett faced the top three wrestlers at 133 pounds in the country in succession. He fell to No. 1 Seth Gross of Wisconsin 13-5 via major decision before losing to No. 2 Austin DeSanto (7-4) and No. 3 Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State (11-3 major decision). In those matches, the final score doesn’t really tell the whole story. In fact, as the season progressed Lovett earned a reputation as someone with some seriously solid game from the top position. In his matchup against DeSanto, Lovett didn’t get the win but he made a statement by riding out the No. 2 wrestler for the full two minutes in his own arena. As a freshman, that’s incredibly impressive. Watch it below.
It got so obvious that opponents were choosing neutral position rather than bottom position, as you can see in the below video in a very tight and exciting matchup that Bravo-Young broke open toward the end.
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about...in a college folkstyle match, there are three periods. The first period starts in neutral (both wrestlers standing up) and lasts three minutes, while the second period starts with the official flipping a disc to decide who gets to choose the position. The winner of the flip gets to either choose top, bottom or neutral or can defer to their opponent. The third period starts with the opposite wrestler getting the choice of position. With the ability to score an easy escape point, the vast majority of wrestlers will choose the down position to start so they can score quickly. In rare occasions, wrestlers will avoid the bottom position if their opponent is strong in the top position.
After those losses, Lovett won five straight Big Ten matches to finish the regular season, highlighted by a 6-5 win over Ohio State’s No. 19 Jordan Decatur.
At the Big Ten Championships, Lovett started things off with a 33-second pin of Minnesota’s Boo Dryden. Lovett then gave Iowa’s DeSanto everything he could handle in a 1-0 loss. Lovett then pinned Purdue’s Travis Ford-Melton before losing to Rutgers’ Sammy Alvarez 9-3. Lovett beat Michigan’s Joey Silva 4-3 in the 7th-place match to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Lovett earned the 14-seed going into the NCAA tournament that was cancelled.
Just a month ago, Lovett competed at the Senior National Championships in Greco-Roman wrestling. He finished with a 2-2 record competing at 67 kg, or 147.7 pounds. Lovett looked much too big to make the 133 pound weight limit he wrestled at as a freshman.
Going forward, the preseason No. 9-ranked Lovett will definitely be a four-year starter, but I don’t anticipate it being at 133 pounds. Lovett wrestled his senior year in high school at 145 pounds in addition to him wrestling at 147.7 pounds at Senior Nationals. He has plenty of room to grow into his frame, but it is possible that with Chad Red Jr. graduating after this season that Lovett stays at 133 before moving up to 141 as a junior to fill that spot. As a senior, who knows? He could get into the 149 to 157 range if he fills out. Wherever he ends up on the roster as the years go by, rest assured that he’ll be a hammer for the Huskers.
With his pedigree and what he showed this season, even in defeat, Lovett has an extremely high ceiling. He’ll be an All-American and is another guy that has the ability to compete for conference and national hardware.