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Wrestling: No. 10 Huskers Taking on No. 14 Tar Heels

North Carolina visits Nebraska led by NCAA Champion Austin O’Connor

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
North Carolina’s Austin O’Connor, seen here reacting after winning the 2021 NCAA Championship at 149 pounds, is moving up to 157 for his senior season.
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The No. 10 Nebraska wrestling team took care of business against Division II schools No. 2 UNK and Chadron State last week, but now comes a real test in No. 14 North Carolina.

Against UNK and Chadron State, Nebraska’s starters looked extremely impressive, so it will be fun to see them tested for the first time this season.

Out of the ACC, North Carolina has been consistently known as a tough wrestling school, and this year is no different. The Tar Heels bring in a national champion as well as four more nationally ranked wrestlers to Lincoln to face a Husker squad with eight ranked wrestlers.

North Carolina is 2-1 on the year with wins over Life (29-6) and Queen’s University (48-0) and its lone loss a 23-12 loss to No. 9 Ohio State.

How to Watch

Nebraska hosts North Carolina tonight at 8 p.m. at the Devaney Center with the dual scheduled to be televised on BTN.

Match-By-Match Analysis

*Individual rankings according to FloWrestling

125 pounds

North Carolina starts the dual off with a promising young freshman in Spencer Moore. Moore is 2-1 on the year with his lone loss a 6-2 decision loss to Ohio State’s No. 14 Malik Heinselman.

Moore is a former Junior World Team member, but I see Nebraska senior No. 17 Liam Cronin starting his season off by welcoming Moore to the Big Ten. Nebraska’s chances: 80%

133 pounds

The Tar Heels will send out senior Jaime Hernandez at this weight. Ranked No. 17 in the country, Hernandez is 2-0 with a 5-3 win over Ohio State’s Dylan Koontz. Sporting a 30-15 career record, Hernandez is looking to finish his career with a big season.

Nebraska will most likely wrestle sophomore Alex Thomsen, who started the season with a dominant win against Chadron State. A big-time recruit who hasn’t yet panned out, Thomsen has the opportunity here to make a statement. Nebraska’s chances: 40%

141 pounds

North Carolina has another talented wrestler at 141 pounds in No. 17 Kizhan Clarke. The senior is 3-0 on the year with a 3-1 overtime win over Ohio State’s Jordan Decatur on his record.

In a matchup of seniors, Nebraska’s No. 8 Chad Red Jr. should definitely be the favorite. Historically, Red hasn’t had much trouble against people he should beat. It’s generally been the very top guys that have consistently given him trouble. Nebraska’s chances: 85%

149 pounds

This may just be the match of the dual right here. North Carolina brings in No. 8 Zach Sherman, a senior who’s 2-1 on the year with his lone loss a 4-3 decision loss to No. 1 Sammy Sasso of Ohio State.

That’s the same Sasso who beat Nebraska’s No. 11 Ridge Lovett in last season’s Big Ten final.

A senior, Sherman has a 57-28 career record. The Tar Heel will take on Lovett, who’s coming off a dominant tech fall and pinfall last week. Really in his first full season at 149 pounds, I see Lovett surprising some people on the national scene this year. That starts with Sherman. Nebraska’s chances: 60%

157 pounds

In the other match-of-the-night candidate, Nebraska’s No. 12 Peyton Robb will take on No. 2 Austin O’Connor. Last season, O’Connor won the NCAA tournament at 149 pounds for North Carolina but decided to bump up to 157 for his final season.

2019 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships
Austin O’Connor
Set Number: X162554 TK1

Last season, Robb wrestled at 165 pounds and finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships. So, with O’Connor moving up and Robb moving down in weight, it’s reasonable to assume that Robb will have a size advantage in this one.

After wrestling earlier this month at the U23 World Championships, Robb started the season with a quick pin last week against UNK. This match should be fireworks. Nebraska’s chances: 35%

165 pounds

At this weight, we have a battle between redshirt freshmen. Nebraska’s Bubba Wilson will be taking on North Carolina’s Sonny Santiago. Santiago is 1-1 on the year with a 10-2 major decision loss to Ohio State’s Carson Kharchla.

Wilson is 1-1 on the year for Nebraska, with his loss a 10-5 decision to former Division II National Champion Matt Malcolm of UNK. This one is anyone’s guess honestly. Nebraska’s chances: 50%

174 pounds

Some question marks here. Will No. 5 Mikey Labriola make his season debut after dealing with “health issues” since just days before the U23 World Championships? If not, who steps in at this weight?

If Labriola does wrestle, he’s likely to not just win, but win with bonus points against an overmatched Gavin Kane of North Carolina. Kane is 1-1 on the year with a 16-10 loss to No. 6 Ethan Smith of Ohio State.

If Labriola takes the mat, he feasts. If it’s freshmen Tahjae Jenkins-Harris or Elise Brown Ton, then it becomes a mystery. All signs point to Labriola’s return, so I’m banking on it. Nebraska’s chances: 99%

184 pounds

North Carolina brings in No. 19 Clay Lautt who is 1-1 on the year with a 4-1 loss to Ohio State’s No. 17 Rocky Jordan.

For Nebraska, No. 10 Taylor Venz is coming off two dominant pins to open his season and looks like a man on a mission. Venz with a big win over a ranked opponent. Nebraska’s chances: 90%

197 pounds

At this weight, North Carolina has wrestled three guys this season. Sophomore Max Shaw is 0-1 after losing via pinfall to Life’s Zane Lanham, while Mark Chaid got the start against Ohio State, falling 14-3 to Gavin Hoffman. Cade Lautt went 0-2 at the Wolf Pack Open.

With the Huskers sending out No. 11 Eric Schultz, this could be an opportunity for some bonus points. Nebraska’s chances: 99%

285 pounds

At heavyweight, North Carolina will send out Brandon Whitman. With a 2-1 record on the year, Whitman won two matches with bonus points before losing to No. 7 Tate Orndorff of Ohio State 2-0.

Nebraska’s No. 13 Christian Lance should be the favorite after starting the year with a major decision win over Division II No. 5 Lee Herrington of UNK. Nebraska’s chances: 70%

Final Prediction

Nebraska should be heavily favored in six of the ten matches with a few more as toss-ups.

I think Nebraska’s depth in its lineup gives it the edge, but the Huskers also have the chance to see big wins out of its super sophomores Ridge Lovett and Peyton Robb. Both guys have matches against Top-10 opponents with a chance to make some statements.

North Carolina has a solid squad, but this Husker team has just too many top guys for the Tar Heels to deal with.

Score Prediction: 29-7 Nebraska victory