After an impressive 5th-place finish at the 2022 NCAA Championships, the Nebraska wrestling team will look a lot different this upcoming season.
Nebraska graduated four starters from last year’s team that have been a big part of the lineup for years, so the Huskers will need to replace them this season.
The middle of Nebraska’s lineup looks to be very tough, led by three-time All-American Mikey Labriola at 174 pounds as well as 2022 NCAA runner-up Ridge Lovett at 149. In between those two, Nebraska features All-American Peyton Robb at 157 and NCAA qualifier Bubba Wilson at 165.
Elsewhere in the lineup, the Huskers have a lot of question marks and unknowns.
Projected 2021-22 Husker Lineup
1. Liam Cronin (Sr.) - 2020-21 starter
2. Quinton Chavez (So.)
1. Boo Dryden (Sr.)
2. Dominick Serrano (So.) - 2021-22 starter
3. Alex Thomsen (Jr.) - part-time starter in 2020-21
1. Brock Hardy (R-Fr.) - Began 2020-21 season as starter at 149
2. Blake Cushing (R-Fr.)
1. Ridge Lovett (Jr.) - 2022 NCAA runner-up
2. Blake Cushing (R-Fr.)
1. Peyton Robb (Jr.) - 2022 All-American
2. Nic Stoltenberg (R-Fr.)
1. Bubba Wilson (So.) - 2022 NCAA qualifier
2. Jagger Condomitti (R-Fr.)
1. Mikey Labriola (Sr.) - 3x All-American
2. Elise Brown Ton (R-Fr.) -OR- Lenny Pinto (R-Fr.)
1. Nathan Haas (R-Fr.)
2. Brandyn Van Tassell (So.)
1. Silas Allred (R-Fr.)
2. Zak Taylor (R-Fr.)
1. Cale Davidson (Sr.)
2. Austin Emerson (Jr.)
Projected starter Liam Cronin is going into his seventh year as a college wrestler. He spent his first four seasons, including a redshirt year, at Indiana before transferring to Nebraska in 2020.
During the Covid-shortened season of 2021, Cronin went 10-5 and qualified for his first NCAA tournament. Then, this past season, Cronin went 3-3 with his season ending with a hand injury, giving him a medical redshirt and one last year of eligibility. That pushed true freshman Jeremiah Reno into the starting spot where he struggled to a 4-15 record. Reno has since hit the transfer portal.
Behind Cronin, Nebraska will have sophomore Quinton Chavez and incoming freshman Jake Van Dee. Chavez went 8-8 last season while Van Dee is a former Pennsylvania state champion.
This is arguably Nebraska’s deepest weight class, as three wrestlers have starting experience.
Senior Boo Dryden, a former Minnesota transfer, wrestled unattached last season after transferring and looks primed to fill the 133-pound spot. But he’ll likely have to fight off last year’s starter Dominick Serrano and former starter Alex Thomsen for the spot.
Dryden is extremely tall and long for the weight class and poses problems for many of the shorter wrestlers at 133. He even has a past win over Serrano.
Dryden won a junior college national title in 2019 for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M before transferring and starting one season in Minnesota where he went 13-14. Dryden went 13-0 for the Huskers last season wrestling in open tournaments. He had three wins by pinfall and four more by tech fall.
Serrano, a sophomore, went 13-13 last year but failed to qualify for NCAAs. He still has a redshirt available, so redshirting him behind Dryden seems like the logical thing to do while looking ahead. That would allow the junior Thomsen to back up Dryden this season. Thomsen, who was a part-time starter in 2020-21, would be a very solid backup.
Nebraska will no longer have Chad Red Jr. at this spot for the first time in half a decade, so his replacement will have big shoes to fill.
Likely taking his spot will be redshirt freshman Brock Hardy. A former big-time recruit, Hardy even started as a true freshman in 2020-21 at 149 pounds before losing the spot to Ridge Lovett. Hardy was impressive, earning two wins over ranked opponents, including a 9-2 win over then-No. 19 Michael Blockhus of Minnesota in his first career match as a Husker. Hardy later downed No. 19 Jonathan Moran via pinfall in a dual, finishing the Covid-shortened season with a 5-3 record.
Last season, Hardy redshirted and went a perfect 5-0.
Also in the mix is redshirt freshman Blake Cushing who went 9-3 last season while redshirting. Sophomore Daniel Monahan could also factor into the depth chart.
Starting the meat of Nebraska’s lineup is arguably its best wrestler Ridge Lovett. The junior is coming off a season where he went 24-4 while finishing as the NCAA runner-up.
Lovett is a three-time NCAA qualifier. He qualified as a true freshman at 133 pounds, but the NCAA tournament was cancelled. Then in 2021, Lovett transitioned up to 149 pounds where he qualified for NCAAs but failed to place. He did make it to the Big Ten final that season.
With a career 50-15 record, Lovett will again be one of the country’s best at 149 pounds.
Nebraska doesn’t have another wrestler listed at 149 pounds, so if there’s a scenario where Lovett can’t go, I’d anticipate either Cushing or Monahan to take the mat.
Another option at 149 could be incoming freshman Danny Nini, but he’ll likely start his career at 141 and looks like an obvious redshirt candidate.
Nebraska returns another All-American here in Peyton Robb. After an up-and-down season in 2021-22, Robb ended on an impressive note, finishing fourth at the NCAA tournament.
Robb, a junior-to-be, finished the season with a 19-10 record and is one of the country’s best returners at the weight. He holds a 50-23 career record.
Behind Robb is redshirt freshman Nic Stoltenberg who went 13-6 last year while redshirting.
Nebraska returns Bubba Wilson here after he had a solid freshman campaign. He went 14-14 and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
As a redshirt in 2019-20, Wilson went 19-1 and was named the Redshirt of the Year for the Huskers.
Behind Wilson, Nebraska will likely send out redshirt freshman Jagger Condomitti, a former Pennsylvania state champion.
Nebraska’s most experienced returner is senior Mikey Labriola. He’s a three-time All-American with a career record of 90-26. His best finish at the NCAA tournament was when he took third in 2021.
Labriola is in an extremely tough weight class as he’s behind a pair of NCAA Champions in Carter Starocci of Penn State and Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech.
After Labriola, Nebraska would likely send out either Elise Brown Ton or Lenny Pinto, both redshirt freshmen. Brown Ton went 10-6 last year while redshirting while Pinto has yet to compete at Nebraska. However, the former Pennsylvania state champ was a top-shelf recruit but suffered a knee injury at Who’s Number One before enrolling at Nebraska.
Here’s where we find out how good Nebraska’s recent recruiting success really has been, as it has to replace all three starters at the upper weights.
Replacing Taylor Venz will likely be redshirt freshman Nathan Haas. During the free-eligibility Covid season of 2020-21, Haas actually got in on some duals behind Venz. Haas was impressive as he won his first collegiate match against then-No. 17 Owen Webster of Minnesota.
This past season, Haas went 8-0 while redshirting.
Competing with Haas will likely be sophomore Brandyn Van Tassell who went 6-5 last season.
Much like 184, Nebraska has to replace a five-year starter in Eric Schultz at 197.
Leading the charge will likely be Silas Allred. The redshirt freshman went 7-0 last year while redshirting. Of his seven wins, he won five by pinfall, one by tech fall and one via medical forfeit. He even pinned Iowa State’s Yonger Bastida early in the season. Bastida went on to finish fifth at NCAAs.
Behind Allred will be fellow redshirt freshman Zak Taylor who went 4-5 last season. Also in the mix if need be will be incoming freshman Nate Wemstrom.
With the graduation of Christian Lance, the Huskers are in search of a new starting big man.
Nebraska has three options in senior Cale Davidson, junior Austin Emerson and incoming freshman Harley Andrews.
Davidson is a former Wyoming transfer who has moved up from 197 to heavyweight where he’s gone 8-2 for the Huskers. I’d say he’s the slight favorite to get the nod. Then there’s Emerson, who went 3-4 last season and holds a career 14-12 record at Nebraska.
The wildcard is Andrews. Nebraska’s highest-rated recruit in its 2022 class, Andrews has a lot of potential. However, considering Nebraska has some options, a redshirt may be the best way to go.