The No. 9-ranked Nebraska Wrestling team starts its season tonight when it plays host to the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Chadron State for the Nebraska Duals at the Devaney Center.
Nebraska will face Chadron State at 7 p.m. before taking on UNK afterward. Action can be seen on BTN+ (subscription required).
UNK had an amazing season last year, as it went 10-1 and finished the season with a runner-up finish at the 2021 Division II NCAA Championships. The Lopers are legitimately one of the best DII programs in the country and should be a nice test for Nebraska.
The Lopers have all ten of its starters ranked at their weight classes in the FloWrestling NCAA Division II Rankings, led by seven wrestlers ranked in the Top 5.
Chadron State recorded four dual victories a year ago and started this season with a 43-0 win over Northeastern Junior College.
Two years ago, the last time Nebraska hosted the Nebraska Duals, Nebraska defeated UNK 41-(-1) and downed Chadron State 37-3.
With the season upon us, let’s take one last look at Nebraska’s potential lineup and where they sit in the updated 2021-22 NCAA Division I rankings by Flowrestling.
Nebraska will once again be led here by senior Liam Cronin, who chose to take advantage of his free year of eligibility after last season didn’t count against anyone’s eligibility.
Cronin is ranked No. 17 in the country entering the season after going 10-5 in 2021. After going 7-1 in the regular season, Cronin had a disappointing postseason, finishing ninth at the Big Ten Championships and not placing at NCAAs. The former Indiana Hoosier now has a 51-44 career record after earning his first career NCAA bid in his first season at Nebraska.
This year, Cronin will have plenty of opportunities against top competition, as he’s slated to face seven of the current Top 25 wrestlers at 125 in dual action this season, including No. 1 Spencer Lee of Iowa and No. 5 Patrick McKee of Minnesota.
It’s unknown who will take the mat for Nebraska at 133 pounds this season. It could be Minnesota transfer Boo Dryden, one of last year’s starters in Alex Thomsen and Tucker Sjomeling, or big-time 2020 recruit Dominick Serrano.
I would anticipate that Dryden gets the call, but we’ll see. Dryden has a 13-14 career DI record after winning the 2019 Junior College National Championship for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.
Regardless of who takes the mat for Nebraska, they’ll have a tough schedule with eight ranked opponents on the dual schedule, including No. 1 Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State and No. 3 Austin DeSanto of Iowa.
Nebraska returns Chad Red Jr. for his fifth year in the starting lineup. The four-time All-American has the rare chance to become one of the first five-time All-Americans in NCAA history.
Red finished sixth at NCAAs in 2021, his best career finish. He went 16-6 on the year and has an 82-36 career record for the Huskers.
The No. 8-ranked Red will face eight ranked wrestlers on the dual slate, led by a trio of top-5 guys in No. 1 Nick Lee (Penn State), No. 3 Jaydin Eierman (Iowa) and No. 5 Steven Micic (Michigan).
Here, Nebraska returns sophomore Ridge Lovett, who in his first year at 149 pounds made it all the way to the Big Ten finals. Lovett eventually fell to Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso, but he certainly put everyone on notice with his tournament.
Lovett went 9-3 on the year and earned his second career NCAA qualification. The sophomore currently holds a 26-11 career record for Nebraska.
The 11th-ranked Lovett will also face eight ranked wrestlers this year on the dual schedule, led by No. 3 Yahya Thomas of Northwestern and Iowa’s No. 6 Max Murin.
After moving up to 165 pounds in 2021, Nebraska’s Peyton Robb will move back down to 157 this season. A two-time NCAA qualifier, Robb recently competed for Team USA at the Senior U23 World Championships, finishing with a 1-1 record.
Robb went 11-7 last season at 165, finishing fourth at Big Tens. In 2019-20 as a freshman, Robb went 20-6 and finished third at Big Tens at 157 pounds.
This season, the No. 14-ranked Robb will likely face seven ranked foes in dual action, led by North Carolina’s No. 2 Austin O’Connor and Northwestern’s No. 3 Ryan Deakin.
Much like at 133, this is a weight where we don’t really know who Nebraska sends out on the mat. It could be redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson, who went 19-1 for Nebraska in 2019-20 while redshirting. It could be incoming stud recruit Jagger Condomitti who’s fresh off a Pennsylvania state title and was ranked No. 13 in the country on Flo’s Class of 2021 Big Board. Then it could also be Elise Brown Ton, a two-time Texas state champion who’s been active this offseason in freestyle.
All we know is that whoever goes here for Nebraska, it’ll be a freshman, as every 165-pounder listed on the roster is a freshman or redshirt freshman.
With six ranked opponents on the schedule at this weight, whoever starts will have to eventually deal with No. 3 Alex Marinelli of Iowa, among others.
This is a weight where there’s been a late wrench thrown into the mix. Mikey Labriola returns for his junior season after being one of Nebraska’s best wrestlers for the past three season. He comes into the season ranked No. 5 at 174 pounds by FloWrestling.
Last season, Labriola went 17-2 while finishing third at both Big Tens and NCAAs for his third All-American honor. He then won a U23 National Championship in freestyle and traveled to compete in the U23 World Championships. Just days before he was scheduled to wrestle, Labriola was a late scratch and needed a late replacement. It’s completely unknown why Labriola was scratched from the lineup so late, but I can’t imagine it bodes well for Nebraska to start the season.
If Labriola misses time, the only other 174-pounder on the roster is true freshman Lenny Pinto, who comes to Nebraska from Pennsylvania where he won a state title as a junior before missing his senior year with a knee injury. Pinto was one of the country’s best recruits. I’m excited to see him take the mat for Nebraska.
This weight class has an extremely tough schedule for Nebraska, as its scheduled to see eight ranked opponents in duals, led by No. 1 Carter Starocci of Penn State and Iowa’s No. 2 Michael Kemerer.
For Nebraska, senior Taylor Venz returns and is ranked No. 11 in the country heading into the season. A four-time NCAA qualifier, Venz went 9-5 last season while finishing runner-up to Penn State’s Aaron Brooks at the Big Ten Championships.
With an 82-30 career record, it’s likely Venz joins the 100-win club this year for Nebraska. Venz has finished 4th, 4th, 3rd and 2nd at Big Tens in his career. Can he break through and earn conference gold?
Venz will likely face eight currently ranked wrestlers in dual action this year, led by top dogs No. 1 Brooks and No. 2 Myles Amine of Michigan.
In a shocking turn of events, Eric Schultz, who leads the team with career wins (86-30 career record) and is a four-time NCAA qualifier, has never finished as an All-American (top 8 finish). I see him making the podium this year.
At Big Tens, Schultz has finished runner-up the past two seasons, falling to Ohio State’s Kollin Moore and Michigan’s Myles Amine. Moore has since graduated and Amine will be down at 184 this year.
No. 11-ranked Schultz has one of Nebraska’s toughest potential schedules, as nine of his future dual opponents are currently ranked. He’ll see Penn State’s No. 2 Max Dean and Iowa’s No. 3-ranked Jacob Warner.
At heavyweight, Nebraska returns Christian Lance. The senior went 9-5 last season with a fifth-place finish at Big Tens before qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
Lance, who’s 27-16 as a Husker, transferred to Nebraska after three seasons (including a redshirt year) at Fort Hays State where he compiled a 54-14 record.
Any heavyweight in the Big Ten will be put through the ringer this season. Five of the top 6 heavyweights in the country are from the Big Ten, including the top three.
Lance will likely face seven guys in dual action that are currently ranked. He’ll face Olympic, NCAA and Big Ten champion Gable Steveson of Minnesota as well as No. 2 Mason Parris of Michigan. Then there’s No. 3 Tony Cassioppi of Iowa who just won a U23 World Championship. Penn State’s Greg Kerkvliet looks like he’s capable of spoiling the Steveson-Parris-Cassioppi party, and Wisconsin’s Trent Hillger is ranked No. 6 to round out the Big Ten elites.
That’s a tough road for anyone. Will lead to a lot of fun matchups though.