This weekend, Nebraska will get its first taste of tournament action at the Navy Classic in Maryland. Facing a field with teams like No. 19 Navy, Lock Haven, Princeton, Air Force and Bucknell, these Huskers will be facing legit Division I competition.
To start the season, Navy is 2-0 with wins over Illinois and No. 23 Pitt. Lock Haven brings a top-ranked guy at 125 pounds. Princeton always has a solid squad, while Air Force could bring the country’s No. 2 heavyweight, a U23 Gold Medalist.
At last year’s Navy Classic, Nebraska crowned five champions with three of those returners in Brock Hardy, Peyton Robb and Silas Allred.
The tournament will air live on Saturday at 8 a.m. at FloWrestling.org (subscription required).
Rankings according to FloWrestling
For the Huskers, this is the weight that provides the most opportunity. A two-time NCAA qualifier for App St. before coming to Lincoln, No. 12 Caleb Smith could potentially get a shot at top-ranked Anthony Noto of Lock Haven.
With the 125-pound weight class in disarray already this year, the only thing that’s clear is that there is no clear pecking order here. A guy like Smith (2-0 on the year) could absolutely knock off a guy like Noto if they meet in the final.
Both juniors, these two have actually met once before in college. While a redshirt freshman for App St. in 2021, Smith beat Noto (who was redshirting) 8-3 at an open tournament. Smith is 60-16 in his career while Noto is 65-7 after earning All-American honors last season.
Noto, who has taken an early season loss the past two seasons, certainly isn’t unbeatable. This is the match to watch in my opinion.
Other ranked wrestlers in the field will be No. 14 Jack Maida (7-0 this season) of American and No. 22 Tucker Owens (4-0) of Air Force.
We could also see freshman Alan Koehler here for the Huskers. With the five-competition rule for freshmen in redshirt, the Husker coaches could use this as an opportunity to see Koehler against DI competition.
Here’s another weight class with a big opportunity for Nebraska, just for different reasons. Redshirt freshman Jacob Van Dee is 2-0 on the year but desperate to prove himself.
He’ll have that opportunity this weekend as he’ll be in a field with three ranked wrestlers. Van Dee could find himself toeing the line against No. 12 Kurt Phipps of Bucknell, No. 14 Brendan Ferretti of Navy, or No. 32 Gable Strickland of Lock Haven. Phipps is 1-1 with his loss to No. 3 Daton Fix. Feretti is 3-0 this year, while Strickland is 4-2 with one loss to top-ranked Ryan Crookham of Lehigh.
If Van Dee is able to navigate this field for a title, he’ll most certainly find his way into the Top 25.
Another name to look for here from Nebraska would be junior Kyle Burwick. The former starter has stayed diligent despite ceding his starting spot to Van Dee. Also a name that could be entered here would be redshirt freshman Hayden Mills.
This weight looks like it’s headed for a Top-10 showdown in the finals between Nebraska’s No. 4 Brock Hardy and Navy’s No. 9 Josh Koderhandt.
Koderhandt is 3-0 on the year with a win over then-No. 8 Cole Matthews of Pitt. The junior is 55-22 in his career and would be a real early-season test for Hardy.
Hardy is 1-0 this season after winning a U23 bronze medal. In his season-opener, he looked great in a 19-4 tech fall against Campbell.
I expect Hardy to win this weekend and continue to distance himself from the pack at 141.
Other ranked guys in the field will be No. 21 Dylan Layton of Cleveland St., No. 29 Wyatt Henson of Lock Haven, and No. 32 Jordan Decatur of Kent State.
Nebraska could also enter Blake Cushing and Ismael Ayoub here.
At this weight, it’ll be all No. 1-ranked Ridge Lovett.
The Husker junior will be in a bracket with four other ranked wrestlers in No. 19 Derek Raike (Ohio), No. 29 Dylan Chappell (Bucknell), No. 30 Ryan Burgos (Edinboro) and No. 32 Nick Stonecheck (Lock Haven).
Lovett started his season with an 11-1 major over No. 11 Kellyn March of North Dakota St. He’s 2-0 after a tech fall against Campbell. I expect more of the same this weekend.
Nebraska could also enter either or both true freshmen Scott Robertson and Weston Dalton.
Nebraska’s No. 3-ranked Peyton Robb’s return to the mat was miraculous enough, but the way he’s putting guys away already shows he’s not messing around. He’s 2-0 with both wins via tech fall.
This weekend, he’ll be in a bracket with just one other ranked wrestler in No. 18 Peyten Kellar of Ohio. Robb is 2-0 vs Kellar in his career with both wins being tech falls.
I expect Robb’s unbeaten season to continue well past the Navy Classic.
Another entry for Nebraska could be true freshman Ethan Stiles.
This is another weight that’ll be interesting for Nebraska, mainly because of the opportunity it affords. Redshirt freshman No. 24 Antrell Taylor has been dominant this season with his 2-0 record, both with bonus points.
This weekend, he’ll face a field with four other ranked wrestlers, led by Bucknell’s No. 12 Noah Mulvaney. Then there’s also No. 20 Garrett Thompson (Ohio), No. 25 Andrew Cerniglia (Navy) and No. 26 Giano Petrucelli (Air Force).
This is Taylor’s opportunity to break out of the pack and enter the Top 15.
Another option here for an entry would be redshirt freshman Josh Licking.
This is a weight that I could see a number of Huskers competing as they try to figure out the full-time starter. No. 31-ranked Elise Brown Ton got the nod against NDSU but lost a decision, while sophomore Adam Thebeau got the start against Campbell and got a tech fall win.
Brown Ton went on to go 3-2 at the Grandview Open last weekend, falling to teammate Christopher Minto in tiebreakers in the consolation semis. Minto went 5-1 at the Grandview Open to finish fourth and will likely wrestle this weekend as well.
Another name that could be here is Bubba Wilson. The starter at 165 the past two seasons, Wilson could be moving up and testing the waters at 174. He’s too good to keep on the shelf.
In the field will be No. 16 Sam Wolf of Air Force, No. 28 Danny Wask of Navy and No. 32 Josh Stillings of The Citadel.
It’s a perfect opportunity for Nebraska to clear up its 174-pound picture.
#32 Josh Stillings, The Citadel
Here’s another weight where Nebraska has a likely finalist in No. 14 Lenny Pinto. Pinto is 2-0 on the year with a win over No. 23 Caleb Hopkins of Campbell this year.
Depending on the seeds, he could likely see No. 12 David Key of Navy in the finals. Other ranked wrestlers in the field will be No. 23 Zayne Lehman of Ohio and No. 30 Nate Dugan of Princeton.
Pinto will have the chance here to move up the rankings with a Navy Classic title.
Much like Pinto, No. 6-ranked Silas Allred picked up a ranked win when he downed No. 19 Levi Hopkins 11-6 last weekend. He’s also 2-0 this year with his other win a tech fall against NDSU.
Allred will be in a field with two other ranked wrestlers in No. 15 Luke Stout of Princeton and No. 23 Benjamin Smith of Cleveland St.
One of the best in the country, I see Allred getting through this field without too much headache.
Nebraska’s Harley Andrews has struggled to start the year, but he has shown serious flashes. He’s 0-2 with his most recent loss to No. 15 Taye Ghadiali of Campbell.
He’ll get his chance to redeem himself this weekend as he’ll be in a field with up to five ranked wrestlers. Air Force’s No. 2-ranked Wyatt Hendrickson isn’t likely to enter but could be there.
The other ranked guys in the field are No. 10 Grady Griess of Navy, No. 22 Daniel Bucknavich of Cleveland St., No. 26 Isaac Reid of Lock Haven and No. 32 William Jarrell of American.
The one thing that Andrews needs that you can’t teach is real-life experience on the mat. He’ll get plenty of it this weekend.