With the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility for all winter sports, Nebraska’s lineup will look very similar to last year’s as five senior starters will return for another season.
Nebraska’s only departure this year is from senior Caleb Licking, who went 5-8 as the starter in 2021 at 157 pounds.
After finishing second at the Big Ten Championships in 2020 and third in 2021, Nebraska should field a team that could contend for some hardware at the conference and national tournaments.
Nebraska brings back senior starters at 125 pounds with Liam Cronin, 141 with Chad Red Jr. 184 with Taylor Venz, 197 with Eric Schultz, and 285 with Christian Lance.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of unknowns and moving pieces as the season approaches.
Projected 2021-22 Husker Lineup
1. Liam Cronin (Sr.) - 2020-21 starter
2. Jeremiah Reno (Fr.) - will likely redshirt
1. Dominick Serrano (Fr.)
2. Alex Thomsen (So.) - part-time starter in 2020-21
3. Tucker Sjomeling (Jr.) - part-time starter in 2020-21
1. Chad Red Jr. (Sr.) - 4x All-American
2. Jordan Kelber (So.) -OR- Tucker Sjomeling (Jr.)
1. Brock Hardy (Fr.) - Began 2020-21 season as starter at 149
2. Kevon Davenport (R-Fr.) -OR- Jevon Parrish (So.)
1. Ridge Lovett (So.) - 2x NCAA qualifier
2. Kevon Davenport (R-Fr.)
3. Bubba Wilson (R-Fr.)
1. Peyton Robb (So.) - 2x NCAA qualifier
2. Isaiah Alford (R-Fr.) -OR- Elise Brown Ton (Fr.)
1. Mikey Labriola (Jr.) - 2x All-American
2. Isaiah Alford (R-Fr.) -OR- Elise Brown Ton (Fr.)
1. Taylor Venz (Sr.) - 2018 All-American, 4x NCAA qualifier
2. Nathan Haas (Fr.) - will likely redshirt
3. Colton Wolfe (Jr.) -OR- Brandyn Van Tassell (Fr.)
1. Eric Schultz (Sr.) - 4x NCAA qualifier
2. Silas Allred (Fr.) - will likely redshirt
3. Anthony Gaona (So.) -OR- Brandyn Van Tassell (Fr.)
1. Christian Lance (Sr.) - NCAA qualifier
2. Cale Davidson (Jr.)
3. Landon Brown (Jr.)
At 125, Nebraska only has two guys. Liam Cronin the senior and Jeremiah Reno the freshman.
Cronin went 10-5 his first season at Nebraska after transferring from Indiana. After going 7-1 in the regular season, Cronin disappointed at Big Tens and NCAAs, finishing ninth at the conference tournament before not placing at nationals. Cronin has proven to be a solid wrestler at a weight class that isn’t all that deep. If he can improve on last season at all, he should contend for All-American status.
Reno was a big-time recruit out of Missouri a year ago after going 179-0 in high school with four state titles. The former Cadet National Freestyle Champ, Reno went 1-2 last year in extra matches and would greatly benefit from redshirting. If Cronin stays healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t.
This will probably be one of Nebraska’s biggest question marks going into the season. The Huskers have a ton of options here. Last season, Tucker Sjomeling and Alex Thomsen split the starting duties before Sjomeling got the nod for the Big Ten tournament where he placed ninth and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Both Sjomeling and Thomsen will be in the mix, but I think freshman Dominick Serrano will win the job here leading up to the season. Serrano, a true blue-chip prospect coming out of high school last season, is a former cadet national champ and also won the 2018 FloNationals title. The Junior National Champ at Fargo in 2019, Serrano has continued his freestyle journey since arriving on campus. He’s fresh off a third-place finish at the Junior World Team Trials where his only loss came to Jesse Mendez, a high school wrestler who is considered to be one of the best recruits to come out in years.
Serrano went 0-1 in his first season for Nebraska, losing an overtime match 6-4 against Michigan State in his only extra match in 2021, but I don’t see that being indicative of things to come. With his skills in both freestyle and folkstyle, I see Serrano doing big things very soon.
Next up would be Sjomeling and Thomsen. Thomsen has been solid this past year on the senior level in Greco-Roman wrestling, winning a Senior National Championship in 2020 before finishing third in 2021. Also, Thomsen competed in freestyle at the U23 National Championships in May, going 5-2 to place seventh.
Sjomeling went 7-5 last season for the Huskers and will be in the competition after a solid junior campaign.
If Serrano doesn’t end up starting, he’ll certainly redshirt.
Nebraska will have senior Chad Red Jr. starting at 141 pounds for the fifth-straight year. The four-time All-American has been a linchpin in the Husker lineup and wants to end his career on top of the podium.
After finishing sixth at NCAAs in 2021, Red decided to come back for one last season and a chance to be Nebraska’s first five-time All-American. He owns an 82-38 career record.
Behind Red, Nebraska doesn’t have much depth at all. Red’s backup figures to be sophomore Jordan Kelber.
This is another weight where it could be anyone’s guess who starts the season for Nebraska. Last year, true freshman Brock Hardy began the season as the starter before Ridge Lovett moved up from 141 to get the starting nod late in the season and into the postseason.
Although technically a true freshman again, Hardy doesn’t seem like a likely redshirt candidate. After graduating high school, Hardy took a two-year Mormon mission and will be 21 years old this season. Also, I anticipate Lovett moving up again to 157 pounds, so Hardy looks like Nebraska’s best option here.
According to Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning, Hardy is Nebraska’s future at 141 pounds. But with Red coming back for another year, Hardy should be a solid starter at 149. He went 5-3 a year ago with his first career match a 9-2 win over No. 19 Michael Blockhus of Minnesota. He later pinned then-No. 19 Jonathan Moran of Indiana. Hardy was a super recruit out of Utah where he won four state titles and five folkstyle national titles. The No. 2-ranked 145-pounder in the class of 2018, Hardy needs to start right away.
Behind Hardy could be either Jevon Parrish or Kevon Davenport. Parrish started as a freshman at 133 pounds but wrestled at 141 last year, finishing with a 2-3 record. Davenport was wrestling at 157 last season, but he went 18-4 while redshirting at 149.
After starting at 133 pounds as a freshman, Ridge Lovett moved up to 141 to start the 2020-21 season. He then moved up to 149 and overtook Hardy for the starting spot, only to finish runner-up at Big Tens. He finished the year with a 9-3 record after failing to place at the NCAA tournament.
Lovett is 26-11 as a Husker and seems to be getting bigger. Talking to Manning, it was clear that Lovett wasn’t probably going to stop at 149 pounds. I got the impression he was destined for 157.
On the freestyle circuit, Lovett has been impressive. Before he came to Nebraska, he was a 2017 Cadet World Team member in Greco-Roman and later a Junior national champ in Greco. More recently, Lovett won the 2020 Junior National Championship in freestyle at 61kg. This summer, he competed at the U23 World Team Trials where he finished sixth at 70kg. Going up from 61kg (134 pounds) to 70kg (154) was a big jump in less than a year.
Also an option at 157 is Davenport, although he struggled last year at 157, going 0-2 on the year. Also, Davenport was recently forced to injury default out of the 2021 Junior Nationals with an undisclosed injury. Behind Davenport would be Bubba Wilson, another redshirt freshman who suffered an injury his last time out, going down awkwardly on his leg in his first match at U23.
This is where Nebraska’s lineup gets really good. Sophomore Peyton Robb is already a two-time NCAA qualifier with a 31-13 career record. After starting as a redshirt freshman at 157 pounds and going 20-6 with a third-place finish at Big Tens, Robb moved up to 165 last season. Robb went 11-7 at his new weight, finishing fourth at Big Tens.
Most recently, Robb turned in a dominant performance competing at 74 kg at the U23 World Team Trials, where he finished as champion and will represent Team USA at the World Championships in November.
Behind Robb, Nebraska could go with either Isaiah Alford or Elise Brown Ton. The redshirt freshman Alford was a two-time Nebraska state champ for Lincoln High and finished in fifth place at the 2020 Junior Nationals in freestyle, even defeating Brown Ton head-to-head 11-1. Brown Ton is talented, but the true freshman will likely redshirt.
Nebraska will have back-to-back U23 World Teamers in its lineup with Mikey Labriola starting for the fourth-straight year. Labriola has had an impressive 2021, as he went 17-2 during the college season, finishing third at the NCAA tournament. The junior holds a 67-21 career record and is already a two-time All-American.
In freestyle, Labriola won the U23 World Team Trials at 79kg and will also represent Team USA in November at the World Championships.
Labriola’s backup is unknown at this point, but it figures to possibly be either Alford or Brown Ton.
Nebraska got a big boost when Taylor Venz decided to come back for another year. Not only does it mean the return of a guy with an 82-30 career record, but it will allow Nebraska to redshirt freshman Nathan Haas.
Venz is a four-time NCAA qualifier and even took home All-American honors as a freshman. But he’s not been on the podium since. Venz has all the talent in the world, something that’s apparent when considering he handed Penn State’s Aaron Brooks, the defending NCAA champ, his only career loss in 2020. Venz can wrestle with the best of them. I expect a big senior year out of him.
Behind Venz are true freshmen Haas and Brandyn Van Tassell. Haas, who started a few duals a year ago and even downed then-No. 19 Owen Webster 5-2 in his debut, should get a redshirt with Venz returning. However, much like Brock Hardy, Van Tassell also served a two-year Mormon mission after high school so it’s unclear if the coaching staff wants to redshirt him. He went 3-2 last season in extra matches.
If both Haas and Van Tassell redshirt, junior Colton Wolfe will likely back up Venz again. Wolfe, the Columbus, Neb. native, has a 20-16 career record for the Huskers in a backup role.
Nebraska has another big-time returner here in Eric Schultz. The four-time NCAA qualifier has yet to get on the podium, so I think this year should be different.
Schultz holds a career 86-30 record and has been a beast the past two seasons. In 2019-20, Schultz went 21-3 with a runner-up finish at Big Tens. In 2021, Schultz went 12-3, again finishing runner-up at Big Tens. So after compiling a 43-24 record his first two years as a starter, Schultz has gone 33-6 the past two seasons combined.
Behind Schultz, Nebraska has freshman Silas Allred. Allred was a big-time recruit out of Indiana. He held a 144-2 career record in high school and pinned just about everyone. Allred should redshirt.
Next up is Anthony Gaona. The sophomore has not taken the mat for Nebraska since his redshirt year in 2018-19 when he went 18-9. If not Gaona, it’s possible Van Tassell could move up to 197.
Senior Christian Lance is coming back to be the Huskers’ heavyweight again. Lance has gone 19-12 for Nebraska the past two seasons while navigating a Big Ten Conference that’s stacked full of top-level big men.
The former Fort Hays State transfer, Lance last year finished fifth at Big Tens before qualifying but not placing at NCAAs. Most recently, Lance finished fifth at Senior Nationals at 125kg, earning a spot in the World Team Trials in September.
Behind Lance would be a pair of juniors in Cale Davidson and Landon Brown. Davidson transferred in 2019 from Wyoming while Brown came to Nebraska last summer from Western Wyoming CC. Davidson was 6-0 last season in extra matches while Brown went 1-0.
Next up would be sophomore Austin Emerson, a pretty high-level recruit that just hasn’t panned out yet, but he is fresh off a 7th-place finish at U23s in Greco-Roman.