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 junior Mikey Labriola
No. 4 Mikey Labriola
After racking up 50 wins in his first two years in the lineup, it’s obvious that the junior-to-be from Pennsylvania has a bright future ahead of him. Mikey Labriola has a 50-19 career record and earned All-American honors as a freshman. He is a two-time NCAA qualifier, but his second trip to the big dance was cancelled in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Labriola was seeded No. 10 out of 33 competitors, so he had a shot at a top-8 finish.
Before Nebraska, Labriola was a standout two-time state champion at Bethlehim Caholic High School in Pennsylvania. He notched 166 career wins in high school and was the top-rated prospect at 170 pounds as well as the No. 5 pound-for-pound wrestler in the 2017 class.
Labriola redshirted during the 2017-18 season and went 18-2 with 12 wins coming with bonus points. In his first collegiate action, Labriola won the Daktronics Open while wrestling unattached. He beat two top-20 wrestlers on the way to the title. Labriola then won the UNK Holiday Open and the Bob Smith Open, where he beat No. 12 Jacobe Smith of Oklahoma State 7-6 in the final.
At the Midlands Championships, Labriola finished fourth and tasted collegiate defeat for the first time. Labriola fell to No. 5 Dylan Lydy of Purdue 6-4 before falling to Lydy again in the third-place match 3-2.
As a redshirt freshman, Labriola put together the best season of his young career, finishing with a 30-9 record with a 14-3 record in duals. Labriola then went on to win the Dakronics Open, beating No. 20 Devin Skatzka of Minnesota 10-5 in the final.
During the dual season, Labriola had wins over three ranked opponents but fell short against the elite competition, falling to No. 1 Mark Hall of Penn State and No. 8 Taylor Lujan of Northern Iowa. Labriola beat No. 10 Johnny Sebastian of Northwestern 14-4 by major decision while winning decisions against No. 12 Skatzka (video below) and No. 18 Ethan Smith of Ohio State.
At the Big Ten Championships, Labriola fell to Skatzka after beating him twice in the regular season, Skatzka winning by pinfall. Labriola then recorded his first career win against Lydy in the consolation semifinal round. In the third-place match, Labriola again faced Skatzka, with Skatzka downing the Husker freshman 4-2.
At the 2019 NCAA Championships, Labriola started things with two wins before falling to No. 2 Daniel Lewis of Missouri. In the consolation bracket, Labriola beat Lydy again before exacting revenge on Skatzka with a 7-5 victory. With the win over Skatzka, Labriola clinched All-American honors while simultaneously denying his rival Skatzka that honor. Labriola lost his next two matches, a 5-3 loss to No. 4 Miles Amine of Michigan in the consolation semifinal before a 4-3 decision loss to No. 6 David McFadden of Virginia Tech in the fifth-place match.
This past season as a sophomore, Labriola went 20-10 with 15 of his wins coming with bonus points. His first match of the year was a 13-second pin over Chadron State’s Gavin Eason.
Labriola finished second at the Journeymen Collegiate Classic, collecting two major decisions and a win by pinfall before falling to No. 2 Jordan Kutler of Lehigh 4-1 in the final. After splitting matches against ranked opponents in a pair of duals, Labriola finished third at the Cliff Keen Invitational that featured a stacked field. The Husker pulled off a 2-1 win over No. 14 Kaleb Romero of Ohio State before losing to a familiar foe in Lydy, a 3-1 loss in sudden victory. Labriola then defeated Skatzka in the third place match, downing the Gopher 7-5 in sudden victory.
In the dual season, Labriola struggled against the top competition. The Husker then-sophomore fell to No. 1 Mark Hall (pinfall), No. 2 Michael Kemerer (3-1), No. 4 Lydy (5-2), and No. 8 Skatzka (7-2). His only win over a ranked Big Ten foe in a dual was a 3-1 win over No. 7 Romero.
At the 2020 Big Ten Championships, Labriola went 3-3 to finish in seventh place and secure an automatic qualification for the NCAA tournament. In the first round, Labriola pinned Michigan’s Max Maylor in 33 seconds, but Labriola faced off with Skatzka for the third time that season, with Labriola falling to the Minnesota senior 6-2. Labriola had two straight bonus-point wins in the consolation bracket before losing to Lydy 5-3 by tiebreaker in the consolation semifinals. In what ended up being his final match of the year, Labriola dropped another one to Skatzka, this time an 8-3 loss in the fifth-place match.
In case you didn’t pick up on it, Labriola’s first few years had a couple constant foes. Rivals if you will. Including their two meetings while Labriola was redshirting, the Husker faced Lydy seven times in his career, going 2-5 (2-3 officially, as records during a redshirt year do not count toward a wrestler’s career record). Not to be outdone, Labriola faced Skatzka nine times in two years, finishing with a 4-5 record against him. Eight of Labriola’s 19 career losses have come at the hands of Lydy or Skatzka.
Lydy and Skatzka were seniors this past season, meaning Labriola doesn’t have to worry about running into them any longer. Same goes for Penn State national champion Mark Hall, who went 2-0 against Labriola in his career.
If not for two “additions” to the national ranks at 174 pounds, Labriola may have been the preseason top-ranked wrestler. Currently he is ranked No. 3 at the weight. At No. 1, Iowa’s Michael Kemerer is back after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. At No. 2, you have Michigan’s Miles Amine who is coming back from an Olympic redshirt year. Labriola is 0-2 against Amine in his career and 0-1 against Kemerer. At fourth place is another Big Ten wrestler in Ohio State’s Romero. Labriola is 2-0 against him. See how Labriola fared against top-rated Kemerer as a sophomore below. Spoiler alert: he did a pretty damn good job.
To be clear, a wrestler that’s ranked No. 3 in the country at his weight class before his junior year obviously has a high ceiling. Labriola will be a national championship contender this year and the next. And if he can’t win a title this year, keep in mind that both Kemerer and Amine are both seniors and will be gone after this season. Labriola’s clearest path of least resistance to a possible run at Big Ten and NCAA titles would be his senior year.