The Nebraska wrestling team is stacked with quality wrestlers both in the college style of folkstyle as well as the international disciplines freestyle and Greco-Roman. And this weekend, nine current Huskers will try to earn a spot on Team USA’s U23 World Team at the 2021 UWW U23 Nationals in Lincoln.
Action starts Friday with the Greco-Roman competition, while freestyle runs all day Friday before finishing up Saturday afternoon.
In freestyle, Nebraska will be represented by Alex Thomsen at 61kg, Chad Red Jr. at 65kg, Ridge Lovett at 70kg, Peyton Robb and Bubba Wilson at 74kg, Mikey Labriola and Elise Brown Ton at 79kg, and Cale Davidson at 125kg. In Greco, Nebraska’s lone entrant is Austin Emerson at 130kg.
Now that Team USA has filled out its Olympic squad and its Junior and Cadet World Teams, next up is the U23 team for anyone between the ages of 18 and 23.
Five of the eight wrestlers Nebraska is sending either are current starters or have extensive starting experience at Nebraska. Chad Red Jr. is a four-time All-American, while junior Mikey Labriola is a two-time All-American. Ridge Lovett and Peyton Robb are two-time NCAA qualifiers as sophomores.
Nebraska’s Freestyle Competitors
A sophomore for Nebraska, Thomsen was the regular starter as a freshman at 125 pounds before moving up to 133 and splitting time with Tucker Sjomeling as a sophomore.
But the talented Iowa native is best-suited for the Greco-Roman style where he’s had a lot of success. Thomsen won the 2020 Senior National Championship in Greco before finishing fourth at the 2021 Last Chance Olympic Qualifier and third at Senior Nationals in 2021. Despite this recent Greco success, Thomsen is competing in freestyle in an absolutely loaded bracket this weekend.
Thomsen does have some freestyle chops, highlighted by a third-place finish at the 2017 Junior World Team Trials, but him securing a U23 spot in freestyle isn’t likely.
Chad Red Jr.
One of Nebraska’s most consistent performers, Chad Red is an extremely talented individual on the mat. He doesn’t have a lot of freestyle experience since going to college, but he’s been a four-time All-American and is gunning to be Nebraska’s first five-timer thanks to the NCAA’s eligibility waiver.
Before Nebraska, Red wasn’t just an undefeated high school wrestler. He also was a Fargo National Champion in 2014 while also winning the always tough Super 32 Championship. Most recently in freestyle, Red went 4-2 at Senior Nationals in 2020.
Red is one of the most credentialed guys in the field and could very well surprise a few people to earn a spot to represent Team USA in Serbia in November.
A two-time NCAA qualifier, sophomore Ridge Lovett came to Nebraska with some serious accolades in freestyle and Greco. Lovett has won junior national titles at both freestyle and Greco, most recently his Junior National Championship from 2020 at 61kg. In 2017, Lovett represented Team USA at the Cadet World Championships in Greco.
Lovett’s freestyle abilities are no secret, especially after his junior national title, but he’s been moving up in weight quickly since arriving in Lincoln. As a true freshman, Lovett suffered through a season of cutting all the way to 133 pounds. As a sophomore, he started the second half of the year at 149 pounds, even making the finals of the Big Ten Championships.
Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning has hinted that Lovett is not done growing, so I anticipate him moving up again to 157 this coming season to plug that hole on the roster. This educated guess of mine holds more water when you consider he’s competing this weekend at 70kg (154 pounds) less than a year after winning a junior title at 61kg (134 pounds).
Nebraska sophomore Peyton Robb has had a lot of success in both freestyle and Greco, most of it coming before arriving in Lincoln. In 2015, Robb was a cadet runner-up at nationals before finishing fifth in 2016 in both freestyle and Greco at the cadet level.
Most recently, Robb finished fourth at the 2020 Greco-Roman Senior Nationals.
Robb is solid and will be a tough out, but I’d be shocked if he makes it on the squad.
The redshirt freshman from Kansas, Wilson will be trying his hand at freestyle after not competing in it much up until this point. As a senior in high school, Wilson won Kansas state titles in both freestyle and Greco.
As he’s an option for the starting spot at 157 pounds this year, I’ll be very interested in how Wilson does.
Nebraska’s best shot at a World Team member is Mikey Labriola. In 2018, Labriola finished runner-up at both the UWW Junior Nationals and the USA Wrestling Junior World Team Trials.
Then in 2020 Labriola stepped up to the senior level and went 2-2 at Senior Nationals. Now with a spot on the line for the U23 team, the two-time All-American seems to be the most credentialed in the field and is the favorite to win.
Elise Brown Ton
The freshman from Texas has extensive experience in both freestyle and Greco. He competed the past two years at Junior Nationals but did not place. In 2019, he finished fourth at the USA Wrestling Cadet World Team Trials at 71kg.
Brown Ton has shown a lot of promise and I think he can surprise some people this weekend.
The heavyweight transfer from Wyoming a couple years ago, Davidson enters the weekend looking for some upsets after going 0-2 at Senior Nationals in 2020.
Nebraska’s Greco-Roman Competitor
A highly-touted recruit who hasn’t panned out as of yet, Emerson has a lot of Greco experience. He was a double All-American at the USA Wrestling Junior Nationals in Fargo in 2017 as well as a double All-American in 2016 at Cadet Nationals.
The Michigan native has all the size in the world and Husker fans everywhere are hoping he can put it all together.