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Wrestling: Huskers Poised for Team Trophy Run at NCAAs

No. 4 Nebraska is looking for its first team trophy at the NCAA Championships in 14 years

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola
Photo by Scott Rovak/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

This year’s Husker wrestling season is nearing its end with the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Okla.

The 4th-ranked Huskers went an impressive 12-3 in their dual season. In tournaments, Nebraska was even more impressive with a third-straight win at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas in early December. Then just over a week ago, the Huskers took home third place at the Big Ten Championships behind just No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Iowa. Nebraska even crowned its first conference champ in eight years in redshirt freshman Silas Allred at 197 pounds.

Nebraska qualified seven of its starters and will be represented by a few wrestlers who will be making return trips to nationals in Liam Cronin, Peyton Robb, Bubba Wilson and Mikey Labriola. Then there’s the Huskers’ trio of redshirt freshmen who are making their first trip to NCAAs in Brock Hardy, Lenny Pinto and Allred. Full brackets at each weight can be found here.

There are 33 wrestlers who qualify for NCAAs each year at each weight and are seeded 1-33. This year, Nebraska has a real shot at a team trophy (Top-4 finish) as it has five wrestlers seeded in the Top 8 at their weights.

Nebraska hasn’t had an individual national champion since Jordan Burroughs won his second in 2012. With so many wrestlers seeded near the top of their weight, this team has a number of guys that could find the top of the podium and break that drought.

As for the team race, Nebraska certainly has a chance to have one of its best finishes ever this year. Based on seeds alone, the Huskers are projected to finish 4th, just behind Cornell and just ahead of Missouri. Nebraska has never finished better than 3rd place (1993) and hasn’t won a team trophy since finishing fourth two years in a row in 2008 and 2009.

“We have a great opportunity and that’s what it is — an opportunity. If we make the most of it, we’ll walk away pretty happy with a team trophy,” head coach Mark Manning said. “We want to max out. You don’t know what’s going to happen with other teams or injuries. We’re just trying to focus on what we can do. The team trophy doesn’t get awarded until Saturday, so there’s a lot of points to be had Thursday and Friday and Saturday morning. Do we have a chance? Absolutely, but you got to go and do it.”

How do teams score points at NCAAs?

There are three ways that teams score points at nationals. There’s placement scoring, advancement points and bonus points.

The Top-8 finishers at each weight earn placement points for their team — these finishers earn All-American status. Here’s how it breaks down:

1st Place - 16 points

2nd Place - 12 points

3rd Place - 10 points

4th Place - 9 points

5th Place - 7 points

6th Place - 6 points

7th Place - 4 points

8th Place - 3 points

In addition to placement points, wrestlers earn advancement points. Every round that a wrestler advances to in the championship bracket is worth one point, while advancing a round in the consolations is worth .5 points.

Bonus points are awarded when a wrestler beats his opponent via pinfall, technical fall or major decision. A major decision (win by 8-14 points) is worth an extra team point, while a tech fall (win by 15 or more, match is stopped when this happens) is worth 1.5 points for the team. A pinfall win is worth an extra two points.

How to Watch

The NCAA Championships will air from Thursday morning until Saturday night with two sessions per day. The morning/afternoon sessions will air on ESPNU each day, while the evening sessions will air on ESPN.

For the complete TV schedule, go here.

Weight-By-Weight Analysis

125 pounds - 3-seed Liam Cronin

NCAA tournament history
2021 - DNP (1-2)

In his last season, Liam Cronin has raised his game considerably. A seventh-year senior, Cronin spent four seasons (one as a redshirt) at Indiana before transferring to Nebraska in 2020. Coming into this season, Cronin had a 56-47 career record and had qualified for nationals just once, going 1-2 in 2021. Last season, Cronin missed the majority of the season with an injury and received a medical redshirt.

Laim Cronin vs. Michael DeAugustino
Nebraska’s Liam Cronin, seen here locking up a cradle on Northwestern’s Michael DeAugustino in their dual in January.
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

This season however, Cronin is well above his career win percentage with his 20-4 record. Two of those losses came to No. 1 Spencer Lee, a three-time NCAA champion and one of the most dominant college wrestlers we’ve ever seen.

With one last bite at the apple, Cronin is going in as the 3-seed and looks to make a deep run in pursuit of his first All-American honors.

In Round 1, Cronin will take on 30-seed Antonio Lorenzo of Cal Poly. Lorenzo is 8-8 on the year and shouldn’t be a challenge to the Big Ten runner-up. In the second round, Cronin will see the winner between 19-seed Braxton Brown of Maryland and 14-seed Noah Surtin of Missouri. Brown is 24-6 on the year while Surtin has a 16-5 record. Cronin has never faced Surtin but he did beat Brown 11-7 earlier this month at Big Tens.

Moving on to the quarterfinals, Cronin will likely see either 11-seed Patrick McKee of Minnesota or 6-seed Stevo Poulin of Northern Colorado. McKee is 12-7 on the year while Poulin is 28-5. Cronin has never faced Poulin but he’s 2-0 against McKee having beaten him 8-1 two years ago and 11-6 this year.

If Cronin advances to the semis, he’ll most likely take on 2-seed Patrick Glory of Princeton. Glory is 20-0 on the year and 94-9 for his career. He’s been one of the best 125-pounders in the country for years. Beating Glory would be a very tall task for Cronin. With a win, Cronin would likely face Lee in the NCAA final. The Husker fell to Lee 8-2 in the Big Ten final after getting pinned in 38 seconds in their dual matchup.

“(Against Spencer Lee) 98 percent of guys get tech-falled or pinned in the first period — he’s a monster. Spencer Lee is really good. He comes out really strong,” Manning said. “You better bring it otherwise you’re going to get overwhelmed. Liam Cronin has wrestled him and been there a few times and learned. He fought better this time and gave himself a chance. He competed really hard and he left it all out there.”

What’s more likely for Cronin is a run to the semifinal where he falls to Glory and wrestles back for third place.

141 pounds - 4-seed Brock Hardy

NCAA tournament history
2023 - First-time Qualifier

Brock Hardy is not your normal redshirt freshman. He graduated high school in 2018 and went on a two-year LDS mission. He joined the Huskers for the Covid-shortened 2021 season where everyone saved a year of eligibility. He even saw the starting lineup at 149 pounds before Ridge Lovett took hold of the spot. On the season, he went 5-3 and started his career with a 9-2 win over a ranked Michael Blockhus of Minnesota. He also lost close matches against Iowa’s Max Murin (6-2) and Northwestern’s Yahya Thomas (4-1).

Then Hardy redshirted last season behind three-time All-American Chad Red. He was injured most of the season before going 5-0 at the Missouri Valley Open late in the season.

Despite being 22 years old, Hardy is technically a redshirt freshman as far as eligibility is concerned. A former top-shelf recruit, Hardy has an incredibly high ceiling for his career.

Brock Hardy vs. Frankie Tal Shahar
Nebraska’s Brock Hardy, seen here riding Northwestern’s Frankie Tal Shahar.
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

This season, Hardy is 27-5 on the year and is fresh off a trip to the Big Ten final where he lost to 1-seed Real Woods 2-1.

As the 4-seed, Hardy will first face 29-seed Jordan Titus of West Virginia in the first round. Titus is 21-12 this season. With a likely win over Titus, Hardy will then face either 13-seed Carter Young or 20-seed Jakob Bergeland in the second round. Young is 15-12 for Oklahoma State while Bergeland is 14-9. Hardy has never faced Young but he did major Bergeland 9-0 this year.

In the quarters, Hardy will likely see 5-seed Ryan Jack of NC State who is 20-3 on the year. These two have wrestled twice this year with Jack beating Hardy 9-7 in their early-season dual before Hardy won 5-4 at CKLV.

With a win over Jack, Hardy will get a third crack at the 1-seed Woods. After losing 6-4 during the season before the 2-1 loss at Big Tens, Hardy has proven he’s capable of wrestling Woods tough and could certainly get a win the third time around.

If Hardy is able to get past Woods, he’ll face either 2-seed Andrew Alirez of Northern Colorado or 3-seed Cole Matthews of Pitt. Alirez is 23-0 while Matthews is 19-1 this year. Either guy poses a very stiff test in the final.

While I wouldn’t rule out a finals run by Hardy, it’s much more likely that he falls to Woods in the semis and wrestles back for third place against the loser of the Alirez vs. Matthews semifinal.

157 pounds - 3-seed Peyton Robb

NCAA tournament history
2020 - Cancelled due to COVID
2021 - DNP (2-2)
2022 - 4th (6-2)

After earning his first All-American honors last year, Peyton Robb jumped levels this year as he went into the Big Ten final undefeated, only to lose to Penn State’s Levi Haines in sudden victory. Robb is now 25-1 on the year going into nationals with an eye on redemption.

“Peyton Robb needs to be more offensive. Maybe he’ll be 10-times more aggressive than he was last week, and I’m betting that he is,” Manning said. “We need to really wrestle tough and be able to score bonus points when we can and look to score a lot of points in our matches. That’s how our team is going to do well.”

Peyton Robb vs Trevor Chumbley
Nebraska’s Peyton Robb, seen here shooting in on Northwestern’s Trevor Chumbley.
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

As the 3-seed, Robb will first face 30-seed Jared Hill of Oklahoma. Hill is 21-12 on the year and shouldn’t be much of a problem for Robb. With a win, Robb will move on to face either 13-seed Cobe Siebrecht of Iowa or 19-seed Garrett Model of Wisconsin in the second round. Siebrecht is 13-6 on the year while Model is 16-9. Robb beat Siebrecht 7-2 and Model 11-3 via major decision during the dual season.

Moving on to the quarters, Robb has a likely matchup against 6-seed Daniel Cardenas of Stanford. A true freshman, Cardenas is 17-1 on the year and just won the Pac-12 championship. It’ll be a tough match for sure, but I think Robb is still a level or two above a guy like Cardenas.

In the semis, Robb will see either 2-seed Haines or 7-seed Bryce Andonian of Virginia Tech. Haines is 20-1 on the year, while Andonian is 8-2. Andonian was a third-place finisher last year at 149 pounds before moving up this year, and the Hokie is very fond of letting it fly. He’s must watch. This quarterfinal matchup between Haines and Andonian will be one I’ll be keeping an eye on.

If Robb is able to avenge his loss to Haines or knock off Andonian then he’ll likely see 1-seed Austin O’Connor of North Carolina in the final. O’Connor won an NCAA title at 149 pounds in 2021 and is a three-time All-American with a 111-10 career record. Robb has wrestled O’Connor once, earning a 5-2 decision win last year in an early-season dual.

After falling short at Big Tens, I look for Robb to wrestle with something extra at NCAAs. Anything less than a trip to the finals would probably be a bit of a disappointment.

165 pounds - 25-seed Bubba Wilson

NCAA tournament history
2022 - DNP (1-2)

A sophomore, Bubba Wilson is fresh off a 6th-place finish at Big Tens, highlighted by a 3-2 win over Penn State’s Alex Facundo. Before the conference meet, Wilson won his final four matches of the regular season. He’s 15-13 going into NCAAs.

Bubba Wilson vs Maxx Mayfield
Nebraska’s Bubba Wilson (left), seen here defending against Northwestern’s Maxx Mayfield.
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

“Bubba’s found a groove and he’s wrestling well right now,” Manning said. “That’s a credit to him and his perseverance. He’s going to roll into nationals with that same kind of momentum.”

In the first round, Wilson will take on 8-seed Matthew Olguin of Oregon State. Olguin is 23-6 on the year and just won a Pac-12 title by beating NCAA champion Shane Griffith 3-2 in the second round of tiebreakers. If Wilson is able to get the upset win, he’ll then move on to face the 9-seed Griffith.

It’s extremely unlikely Wilson gets past these two West-coasters. It’s far more likely that he hits the consolation bracket early on and gets a win or two. If Wilson wants to get close to placing, he’ll need a couple upsets.

174 pounds - 2-seed Mikey Labriola

NCAA tournament history
2019 - 6th (4-3)
2020 - Cancelled due to COVID
2021 - 3rd (6-1)
2022 - 7th (4-2)

In his final season as a Husker, Mikey Labriola is having the best year of his career. He’s 25-1 and is coming off his first loss of the season in the Big Ten final against 1-seed Carter Starocci of Penn State.

“He wants to win each time out, but sometimes your faith grows when you struggle a little bit,” Manning said. “He struggled in that match and we didn’t wrestle our best, and Starocci wrestled really good. You have to tip your hat to him and come back with a little bit different game plan and more effort to your purpose.”

Mikey Labriola vs Ankaa Enhmandakh
Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola (left)
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

As the 2-seed, Labriola will take on 31-seed Tyler Stoltzfus of Lock Haven in the first round. Stoltzfus is 32-12 on the year. With a win Labriola will face 15-seed Demetrius Romero of Utah Valley or 18-seed Tate Picklo of Oklahoma in the second round. Romero is 14-3 this year while Picklo is 22-8.

Moving onto the quarters, Labriola will likely face the winner between 7-seed Peyton Mocco of Missouri and 10-seed Rocky Jordan of Chattanooga. Mocco is 20-4 while Jordan is 19-2 on the year.

Onto the semifinal round, Labriola could face 3-seed Mekhi Lewis. A former NCAA champion at 165 pounds in 2019, Lewis was also an NCAA finalist last year when he lost to Starocci in overtime. Labriola beat Lewis 3-1 this season in sudden victory at CKLV, making him the favorite to make it to the finals.

If Labriola makes it to the final against Starocci, it’ll be a tall task for him after falling to the Penn State sophomore 6-1 just 10 days ago.

184 pounds - 13-seed Lenny Pinto

NCAA tournament history
2023 - First-time Qualifier

In his first year in the Husker lineup, Lenny Pinto has made a name for himself. After a slow start to the year, Pinto has improved consistently. Now, he’s not the most polished wrestler out there, but he is one of the strongest and he likes to go big. With a 23-9 record on the year, Pinto is a threat against anyone.

Lenny Pinto vs Jon Halvorsen
Nebraska’s Lenny Pinto
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

As the 13-seed, Pinto will wrestle against Virginia’s Neil Antrassian in the first round. Antrassian is 21-9 on the year. With a win over Antrassian, Pinto will take on 4-seed Trey Munoz of Oregon State in the second round. Munoz is 24-1 on the year with his lone loss coming to Pinto at CKLV, so obviously it’s proven that Pinto can beat him.

With an upset win over Munoz, Pinto would then take on 5-seed Marcus Coleman of Iowa State in the quarterfinal round. A senior, Coleman is 19-3 on the year and has a win over two-time NCAA champion Aaron Brooks of Penn State. He’s not unbeatable, but it’ll be a tough matchup for Pinto.

With a potential upset win over Coleman, Pinto could find himself in the semifinal round against 1-seed Parker Keckeisen of Northern Iowa. Keckeisen is 22-1 on the year and already beat Pinto via 11-2 major decision.

This is about as far as I can see Pinto making it in the championship bracket, so he’d have to earn his place in the consolation bracket.

While I wouldn’t rule out a deep run from Pinto, it’s much more likely that he falls against either Munoz or Coleman and has to earn his first All-American honors through the back side.

197 pounds - 8-seed Silas Allred

NCAA tournament history
2023 - First-time Qualifier

It’s been a pretty special start to Allred’s career as the redshirt freshman is 26-5 on the year and just beat NCAA champion Max Dean to win the Big Ten title. Despite this, Allred’s in a loaded weight class and took multiple losses to both 6-seed Isaac Trumble and 7-seed Tanner Sloan.

“That weight class is really tough and loaded with good guys. There’s some tough guys here,” Manning said. “I think he handled (Big Tens) well and I think he manages his mindset and competed with a lot of heart, especially in the finals. He went out and got it.”

As the 8-seed, Allred will first take on 25-seed Michael Battista of Virginia. Battista is 26-11 on the year. With a win there, Allred will likely see the 9-seed Dean again. If Allred is able to wrestle like he did in the Big Ten final, he’ll advance to the quarters where he’ll see 1-seed Nino Bonaccorsi. Bonaccorsi is the only undefeated 197-pounder at 16-0 on the year. Allred will be a heavy underdog against the former NCAA finalist from Pitt.

If Allred is able to down Bonaccorsi, he’ll move on to the semis where he could see 4-seed Ethan Laird of Rider, 5-seed Michael Beard of Lehigh, 12-seed Zac Braunagel of Illinois, or 13-seed Yonger Bastida of Iowa State. Laird is 25-1 while Beard is 19-3. Braunagel has lost twice to Allred this year and has a record of 21-7. Bastida began the year near the top of this weight but he’s fallen off a bit with a 16-7 record this season.

If Allred navigates that meat-grinder of a path, he’ll likely see either 2-seed Bernie Truax of Cal Poly or 3-seed Rocky Elam of Missouri in the finals. Truax is 13-1 on the year while Elam is 10-1. Truax won himself a Pac-12 title while Elam is the Big 12 champion. Both will be tough outs for sure.

If I had to bet on it, I’d say it’s more likely that Allred falls to either Dean, Bonaccorsi or Beard/Laird. Allred should be able to wrestle back for All-American honors, but with the depth at this weight, it won’t be easy.