After finishing third at the Big Ten Championships this past weekend, the Nebraska wrestling team qualified nine of its 10 starters for the NCAA Championships next weekend in St. Louis, Mo.
Eight Huskers earned automatic qualifications while senior Liam Cronin earned an at-large bid. 133 pounds is the only weight class where a Husker did not qualify.
Nebraska has five wrestlers seeded No. 8 or better, and since All-American status is earned by the top-8 finishers at each weight, the Huskers are essentially favored to have five All-Americans.
The team race looks like Iowa’s to lose, but the race for team trophies (the top 4 finishers receive team trophies) will be fierce as the Huskers will be battling with about 5 other teams for those spots.
Nebraska’s 13-seed Liam Cronin had a disappointing conference tournament, plain and simple. He was seeded No. 2 and finished ninth and needed an at-large bid to qualify for NCAAs. Cronin comes in 9-3 on the year and will be the 13-seed out of the 33-wrestler field.
Cronin will open against 20-seed Jake Ferri of Kent State. Ferri is 13-2 on the year and finished third at the MAC Championships. With a win over Ferri, Cronin would move on to face 4-seed Drew Hildebrandt of Central Michigan. Hildebrandt is 10-0 on the year and won the 2021 MAC Championship at 125 pounds.
For the Huskers’ 8-seed Chad Red Jr., it always seems that there is just a few elite guys that he just can’t get past. Last year, it was Penn State’s Nick Lee, who hasn’t gone anywhere. This year, it’s been Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman who Red hasn’t been able to figure out. The top-seeded Hawkeye is 8-0 on the year and has beaten Red twice. Red, who is 11-3 on the year, has only lost to Eierman and 3-seed Sebastian Rivera of Rutgers.
The Husker will face 25-seed Drew Mattin of Michigan in the first round. With a win, Red will face MAC Champion 9-seed Dresden Simon of Central Michigan. If Red can down Simon, that will set up a trilogy match against Eierman in the quarterfinal round.
Nebraska’s 5-seed Ridge Lovett has made one of the fastest ascensions ever in an NCAA weight class. Just over a month ago, Lovett wasn’t even in the lineup at 149 pounds for the Huskers. Fast forward five weeks and Lovett is 8-1, a Big Ten finalist and the No. 5-seed going into the NCAA tournament.
The Husker earned the seed though as he upset both Max Murin of Iowa and Michael Blockhus of Minnesota before keeping things close against No. 1 Sammy Sasso of Ohio State.
In the first round, Lovett will face a familiar foe in 28-seed Peyton Omania of Michigan State. Lovett earned his first dual win ever at 149 pounds with a 13-3 major decision over the Spartan. If Lovett can beat Omania again, he’ll see 12-seed Murin again in the second round. After downing the Hawkeye at Big Tens, this matchup could go either way. Outside of a big six-point move by Lovett to build a big lead, Murin largely controlled things in that match but could’t complete the comeback. This is a tough second-round matchup for Lovett.
Nebraska’s 29-seed Caleb Licking is making his first NCAA Championships appearance after finishing 7th at the Big Ten Championships, but he will start things off with a tough draw against 4-seed Jesse Dellavecchia of Rider. Dellavecchia is 7-0 on the year and just won the MAC Championships at 157. Licking is 5-6 on the year, so this will be a tough first-round matchup for the Husker.
Nebraska will be represented by 14-seed Peyton Robb here. Robb is 9-5 on the year and just finished fourth at the Big Tens.
In the first round, Robb will face 19-seed Gerrit Nijenhuis of Purdue. Robb beat Nijenhuis 6-3 this past weekend in the consolation bracket at Big Tens. With a win over the Boilermaker, Robb would likely go on to face ACC Champion and 3-seed Jake Wentzel of Pitt. Wentzel is 9-1 on the year and will be a tough second-round matchup for the Husker sophomore.
After a third-place finish at Big Tens, 4-seed Mikey Labriola heads to NCAAs looking for another All-American honor. Labriola is 11-1 on the year with his only loss a 3-1 decision in sudden victory in the Big Ten semis to Penn State freshman Carter Starocci.
Labriola will face 29-seed Lance Runyon (7-5) of Northern Iowa in the first round. He then will hit against either the 13 or 20-seed before rematching Michigan’s Logan Massa in the quarterfinal round. Labriola downed Massa 11-3 by major decision in the third-place match at Big Tens.
With a win in the quarterfinal, Labriola would face 1-seed Michael Kemerer of Iowa in the semis. Kemerer didn’t wrestle in the NU-Iowa dual this year and they didn’t wrestle at Big Tens. It appears that Labriola will finally get his shot at Kemerer this year.
After a spotty regular season, 8-seed Taylor Venz has turned things on since the regular season finale. Venz went 3-1 to finish second at the Big Ten Championships, falling only to the 1-seed Aaron Brooks of Penn State. Venz comes in with a 7-3 record on the year.
At NCAAs, Venz will face 25-seed Matthew Waddell (11-5) of Chattanooga in the first round. With a win, Venz will likely face 9-seed Jeremiah Kent of Missouri who is 9-1 on the year. A win over Kent would set up a rematch between Venz and 1-seed Brooks in the quarterfinal round.
Coming in at the highest seed for the Huskers is 2-seed Eric Schultz. Schultz is 10-1 on the year with his only loss to the NCAA 1-seed Myles Amine of Michigan in the Big Ten final.
Schultz has a few very winnable matches to start the tournament against 31-seed Owen Pentz (7-4) of North Dakota State and presumably 15-seed Michael Beard of Penn State. After those matches, things get much tougher, as Schultz would likely see an undefeated wrestler from the quarterfinals on. With wins, Schultz would likely have to face 7-seed Rocky Elam (11-0) of Missouri, 3-seed Kordell Norfleet (9-0) of Arizona State and 1-seed Amine (6-0). Elam won the MAC title this year, Norfleet is the Pac-12 champion and Amine the Big Ten champ. That’s a tough road for a 2-seed.
Nebraska’s 12-seed Christian Lance will make his first career trip to the NCAAs. Lance is 9-5 on the year and will take on 21-seed Tate Orndorff of Ohio State. Orndorff is 7-8 on the year but Lance did take a 3-2 win over the Buckeye in the 5th-place match at the Big Ten Championships.
With a win over Orndorff, Lance would likely face 5-seed Tony Cassioppi of Iowa in the second round. Cassioppi beat Lance 4-0 in the regular season and will probably be too much for Lance.