With the season starting this week, I figure it’s time to see where the Husker lineup stands.
This Husker roster underwent a big overhaul this offseason. Since last season, Nebraska lost 15 wrestlers due to a number of reasons such as graduation and transfers. The Huskers also brought in 14 new guys — 13 true freshmen and a transfer.
Obviously, a lot has happened since our last look at the potential 2023-24 lineup, so let’s get right into it.
Projected 2023-24 Husker 2-deep
1. Caleb Smith (Jr.) - 2x NCAA qualifier at App. St.; 2023 SoCon Champ
2. Alan Koehler (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Jacob Van Dee (R-Fr.)
2. Kyle Burwick (Jr.) - 2022-23 starter
1. Brock Hardy (So.) - 2023 All-American, U23 World Bronze Medalist
2. Blake Cushing (So.)
1. Ridge Lovett (Jr.) - 2022 NCAA runner-up
2. Scott Robertson (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Peyton Robb (Sr.) - 2x All-American
2. Ethan Stiles (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Antrell Taylor (R-Fr.)
2. Bubba Wilson (Jr.) - 2x NCAA qualifier
1. Elise Brown Ton (Jr.)
2. Adam Thebeau (So.)
1. Lenny Pinto (So.) - 2023 NCAA qualifier
2. Brandyn Van Tassell (Jr.)
1. Silas Allred (So.) - 2023 Big Ten Champion, NCAA qualifier
2. Dominic Thebeau (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Harley Andrews (R-Fr.)
2. Matthew Moore (Fr.)
No. 13 Caleb Smith
Of the four 125-pounders on the roster last season, three are gone and the other has gone up in weight, so the Huskers will field only newcomers at this weight.
Lucky for Nebraska, it was able to get one of the best in the country to transfer in — Caleb Smith from Appalachian State. The junior is 60-16 in his career after going 26-7 a year ago. He’s already a two-time NCAA qualifier, so he should be able to come in and do well.
“He does everything right – he’s a really super hard worker,” said Nebraska Head Coach Mark Manning after Thursday’s practice. “He’s just got better in specific areas and we’ve really challenged him in just wrestling better in some of the areas he needs improvement in.”
Smith beat true freshman Alan Koehler in their wrestle-off in a close 4-2 match. Smith is really fast and hard to score on, while Koehler looks like the real deal for a freshman. I could see Koehler getting some dual experience this season while redshirting.
Smith is accomplished on the freestyle scene too — he’s ranked No. 7 on FloWrestling’s domestic men’s freestyle rankings. This summer he took seventh at the Senior US Open.
It’ll be interesting to see how Smith will benefit from being in the Husker room and how he’ll handle a full Big Ten schedule.
Jacob Van Dee -OR- No. 31 Kyle Burwick
This is a weight that has seen incumbent starter Kyle Burwick trying to fight off redshirt freshman Jacob Van Dee as he moves up from 125 in search of a starting spot at a more comfortable weight class.
It’s unclear who will take the mat for Nebraska. I’d imagine the competition is ongoing, but it looks like the starter will initially be Van Dee after he downed Burwick 4-1 in their wrestle-off match. Again, wrestle-offs are not the only barometer to choosing a starter, but they are still a factor in deciding a lineup.
Burwick went 13-10 last year but struggled against Big Ten opponents, while Van Dee went 10-4 while redshirting. A former Top-100 recruit in 2022, Van Dee was a state champion in Pennsylvania before making the move to Lincoln. Last season, he wrestled Matt Ramos of Purdue (currently ranked No. 1 at 125 pounds) very tough, losing a 5-3 decision.
It looks like Van Dee has earned his shot. Now it’s time to see what he does with it.
No. 4 Brock Hardy
Fresh off winning his U23 World Bronze, Brock Hardy is entrenched in this lineup permanently. Just check out some of his handy work on the World stage.
Brock Hardy hit some out of the box stuff at the U23 World Championships where he took home a Bronze pic.twitter.com/dkfJ7et5OP— FloWrestling (@FloWrestling) October 31, 2023
“When people medal at World Championships, that just inspires other people – and that’s what Brock brings to our team,” Manning said. “He wrestles for his teammates as much as he wrestles for himself.”
As a redshirt freshman last season, Hardy went 30-8 while earning All-American honors with a sixth-place finish at NCAAs. He could have placed much higher if not for a broken rib he sustained in his semifinal loss to Iowa’s Real Woods. He also made it to the Big Ten final, falling to Woods 2-1.
Behind Hardy is Blake Cushing, a Nebraska native who went 14-5 last year while wrestling at both 141 and 149. He’ll be a solid backup for Nebraska at either weight this coming season.
No. 1 Ridge Lovett
Boy does it feel good to know that Ridge Lovett will be back for the Huskers.
After redshirting last season, Lovett returns to the lineup as the top-ranked guy in the country. The 2022 NCAA and Big Ten finalist, Lovett spent the offseason working on his game. A much-improved Ridge Lovett is a scary thought for the rest of the field at 149.
“Holding myself back made me more hungry to wrestle,” Lovett said. “I was just talking to Lenny (Pinto) the other day about how we’ve been roommates for two years, we’ve been in college for three years and we haven’t been on the same team yet and actually competed together. It’s going to be good to go out there and compete with the new guys and my old teammates again.”
Lovett is 50-15 in his career, but he went 24-4 as a sophomore in his first full season up at 149.
Nebraska hasn’t had a National Champion since Jordan Burroughs did it in 2011. It’s time for another Husker to add his name to that list, and I think it happens this season — and if it’s not Lovett, he’s not Nebraska’s only guy who has a chance at the top of the podium in this lineup.
No. 3 Peyton Robb
After his well-documented health scare from a skin infection, Peyton Robb is full go for his senior year.
The only senior on the team, Robb is clearly ready to go after dominating his wrestle-off against true freshman Ethan Stiles. Stiles was a Top-100 recruit this past year, but Robb is one of the true contenders for an NCAA title at 157 pounds.
With a 78-27 career record, Robb is a two-time All-American (4th in ‘22, 6th in ‘23) and had it not been for his leg infection could have won a national title this past season. He’ll get one last shot at it this year as he helps form a fearsome trio in the Husker lineup with Hardy and Lovett before him.
“Murderer’s Row,” Lovett called it. “It makes it exciting because we got new faces in at the lower weights with Caleb coming in and Van Dee. Then we have Brock, me, P-Robb, Trelly – it’s exciting.”
Stiles was a 5th-placer finisher at the U20 World Team Trials at 70kg this summer, he should benefit a ton from going against Robb in the room this season while he redshirts.
Antrell Taylor -OR- No. 9 Bubba Wilson
As I said before, wrestle-offs don’t always decide a starter, especially when they’re close matches, but Antrell Taylor beat No. 9 Bubba Wilson in their wrestle-off in tiebreakers. The super-talented redshirt freshman Taylor has moved up this year from 157 to compete at 165.
“133 and 165, that’s all fluid,” Manning said. “We’ll see what happens moving forward, but that’s just one wrestle-off.”
A two-time NCAA qualifier, Wilson has had his ups and downs as a Husker. His career record is 31-29 and he’s at times struggled in the Big Ten. With 157 locked down with Robb, Taylor offers a lot of upside at 165. He wrestled as a senior in high school at 170 and just made it to the U20 US Open and World Team Trials finals this past summer.
To his own merit, Wilson has certainly improved this summer as he went 10-1 at the U23 World Team Trials to finish in 3rd place as the 23-seed. He looked great in that tournament.
Having two guys at the same weight that are this good is a good problem to have. It’s possible the Nebraska coaches get creative with their lineups to get both of these guys mat time.
No. 24 Elise Brown Ton -OR- Adam Thebeau
The Huskers will certainly miss Mikey Labriola here, but they brought in a trio of true freshmen in this past recruiting class to help bolster depth.
Nebraska’s starter this year will likely be either junior Elise Brown Ton or sophomore Adam Thebeau. Brown Ton has a 29-6 career record, almost exclusively in open tournaments — he went 19-2 last season. He is 1-0 in dual action with his lone dual appearance taking place last year, a 6-3 win over Purdue’s Macartney Parkinson.
Thebeau went 10-4 last season with an 0-2 dual record at 165 pounds. He’s since moved up to 174 and took Brown Ton into overtime in their wrestle-off. I could see Nebraska using the non-conference/open tournament portion of the season to figure out their true starter before Big Ten action begins in January.
No. 14 Lenny Pinto
After bursting onto the scene as a freshman with big moves and lots of horsepower, Lenny Pinto should be even better with another year under his belt. Pinto missed two years of action to end his high school career and start his college career due to a knee injury. Last season was his first time back on the mat competitively since before his senior year of high school.
Pinto had himself a year as a redshirt freshman, going 24-11 on the season. He qualified for NCAAs but went 1-2 and failed to place. He had some really close results throughout the season against of some of the country’s best, but he was never able to fully put it together. As a sophomore, I think he’ll be vastly improved after another year under these Husker coaches.
With some big names leaving 184 pounds, there are All-American spots up for grabs. Could Pinto be next in line?
Behind Pinto is Brandyn Van Tassell. The junior went 7-3 a year ago. He’s a solid backup for sure.
No. 6 Silas Allred
This weight has one of Nebraska’s best wrestlers in sophomore Silas Allred. Behind him however, Nebraska is pretty thin.
The only 197-pounder listed on the Husker roster, Allred was Nebraska’s first Big Ten Champion in eight years this past season. He went on to fall one win short of All-American honors at NCAAs — his two losses were to eventual NCAA Champion Nino Bonaccorsi of Pitt and 2022 NCAA finalist Jacob Warner of Iowa. He twice beat former NCAA champ Max Dean of Penn State — once in the Big Ten final and another time at NCAAs.
With his 28-7 record on the year, Allred made a name for himself as a freshman, although I’m sure that falling short of the podium doesn’t sit well with him. He looked on point in his wrestle-off win over freshman Dominic Thebeau. I expect Allred to contend for one of the top spots on the podium in a ridiculously deep and talented 197-pound weight class.
According to Allred, the culture of this Husker program had a lot to do with his rapid ascention at 197 pounds.
“We have a very special culture here – our guys, we work hard and we stay focused in. We’re not perfect, but we have a special culture where we cheer each other on and hold each other accountable and we just love to work hard,” Allred said. “All the young freshmen who came in this summer have just embraced it and bought in. The aura of the room when you walk in here and you’re watching a practice, just the intensity and purpose that we have behind everything that we’re doing – it’s special.”
This summer on the freestyle circuit, Allred took 4th place at the US Open in the Senior division. He then made it to the semifinal round of the U23 World Team Trials challenge tournament.
With incoming freshman and U20 World Bronze Medalist Camden McDanel using a gap year to train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the backup duties fall to Dominic Thebeau while he redshirts.
Last year’s two starters Cale Davidson and Austin Emerson are gone. In comes the highly-touted recruit fresh off redshirt in Harley Andrews.
“Harley can really move, he can really wrestle,” Manning said. “I’m just anxious for him to get out and start building some confidence.”
While redshirting last season, Andrews went 22-2. He has a lot of talent. He is a legit heavyweight and has a pretty high ceiling. The former three-time Oklahoma state champ will likely take his lumps in a Big Ten full of heavyweight hammers, but it’ll provide one hell of a measuring stick.
This summer, Nebraska did bring in transfer Owen Pentz from North Dakota State, a former 197-pounder, to compete for the heavyweight job. Presumed the eventual starter by many, Pentz has since left the team.
Behind Andrews is Matthew Moore, a true freshman that the Huskers would like to redshirt. I do anticipate him getting a few varsity looks while keeping his redshirt intact. The Colorado state champ made it to the finals of Ironman in 2022 — he’s a legit heavyweight too with good size.