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Wrestling: Huskers Looking to Make Noise at Senior US Open

Huskers will have 13 former and current wrestlers competing at the Senior level Thursday and Friday — Including living legend Rulon Gardner

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Wrestling Championship
Former NCAA finalist Tyler Berger leads the Husker group at the Senior level as he’s the 2-seed at 70kg.
Photo by Justin K. Aller/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

With this year’s US Open winners going on to Final X to wrestle a best-of-three for a World Team spot, the fields are full of the best in the country at every level.

At the Senior level, Nebraska has 13 current and former Huskers competing in the field.

“We have a lot of guys going. We’ve really trained hard this past month for this,” head coach Mark Manning said. “We’re looking forward to seeing some great results in Vegas.”

The vast majority of these guys are competing in freestyle, but there are some that are registered in Greco-Roman. That includes Rulon Gardner, who is registered for the Open at 51 years old as part of an attempted Olympic comeback next year.

We already dove into former Husker O-lineman Tanner Farmer’s ambitions at the US Open, now let’s take a look at these former and current Husker wrestlers getting set to compete at the Senior level Thursday and Friday in Las Vegas.


As for former Huskers, there is Tyler Berger, Collin Purinton, Isaiah White, Eric Schultz, TJ Dudley, Christian Lance and Gardner in Greco-Roman.

Current Huskers competing are Caleb Smith, Ridge Lovett, Mikey Labriola, Silas Allred and Dayne Morton.

2-seed Tyler Berger


A former NCAA finalist at Nebraska, Berger most recently finished second in November at the Kunayev International Wrestling Tournament against some really solid international competition. At the 2022 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Berger finished third and fell to Alec Pantaleo 3-2. Pantaleo is the 1-seed at this year’s Open.

Pantaleo is not a heavy favorite by any means, so this tournament is ripe for the taking by a guy like Berger who’s been right on the cusp of making a World Team for a few years.

2-seed TJ (Tim) Dudley


Also a 2-seed is Dudley, a three-time All-American and NCAA finalist for the Huskers. Dudley faces a very tough test at 97kg as six-time World/Olympic medalist J’den Cox is moving up from 92kg to 97kg. With 92kg not being an Olympic weight, Cox is moving up early in anticipation of an Olympic run, challenging Olympic champion Kyle Snyder.

It’s a tough situation for Dudley, but I do expect him to get to the finals opposite Cox on the bracket.

4-seed Eric Schultz


An All-American in 2022, Schultz has been turning heads on the freestyle circuit since graduating. In November of 2022, Schultz won the Bill Farrell Memorial International Open with a 6-6 win via criteria over Morgan McIntosh (the 5-seed this week).

Then Schultz won the Henri Deglane in Nice, France in January with a win over Jay Aiello who is seeded 6th this weekend.

This US Open will be the perfect opportunity to see where Schultz stacks up against more elite competition. Schultz could see McIntosh again in the quarters before a likely matchup against 1-seed Kollin Moore in the semis.

5-seed Ridge Lovett


The junior-to-be, Lovett redshirted this past season and focused on his neutral offense. That should pay dividends in freestyle. Lovett was a 2022 NCAA finalist and has been steadily improving throughout his career.

Ridge Lovett
Dylan Guenther / CORN NATION

On the freestyle scene, Lovett won a Junior National Title in 2020 wrestling at 61kg. Then at the Henri Deglane in January, Lovett won the bronze medal. In the 3rd-place match, Lovett came back from behind to beat Matt Kolodzik 15-12. Kolodzik is the 6-seed this week.

Lovett seems to have the freestyle chops to stake a claim at the Senior level. I don’t know that it’s this year, but he’s rapidly improving and has a lot in front of him.

6-seed Collin Purinton


A former starter for the Huskers, Purinton has really improved since moving to freestyle. Purinton qualified for last year’s World Team Trials and took bronze at the Henri Deglane.

Purinton beat Josh Shields 14-10 in France, slotting Shields just behind Purinton at the 7-seed.

Purinton has really been getting better, but he’ll likely see 3-seed Vincenzo Joseph in the quarters. Purinton fell to Joseph 16-6 at the Henri Deglane.

6-seed Rulon Gardner (Greco-Roman)


An All-American for the Huskers all the way back in 1993, Gardner went on to earn legend status when he won Olympic gold against Russia’s Aleksandr Karelin, the three-time defending Olympic champion. He hadn’t lost a match in 13 years when Gardner beat him in the Olympic final, one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

Gardner went on to win a World Championship in 2001 and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics.

At 51 years of age, it’s pretty remarkable that Gardner has registered. Now he has to make the 130kg weight limit (just over 286 pounds) this morning. If he takes the mat, it’ll be an amazing feat considering his well-documented battles with obesity.

7-seed Christian Lance


An All-American in 2022, Lance has been impressive on the Senior level. He finished sixth at last year’s US Open while earning a silver medal at the Henri Deglane.

Christian Lance
Dylan Guenther / CORN NATION

This year’s Open is STACKED with talent, including Olympic Champion Gable Steveson, two-time World medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, and 2023 NCAA Champion Mason Parris.

Lance has a chance to improve on his seed, but I don’t see him breaking into the Top 4 here.

7-seed Caleb Smith


A recently-announced transfer from Appalachian State, Smith is solid in both folkstyle and freestyle. He’s a two-time NCAA qualifier and a SoCon champ.

This week, Smith will likely have a very difficult road. If he makes it to the quarters, he’ll likely see 2-seed Spencer Lee, a three-time NCAA champ. If he somehow gets past Lee, Smith will face 3-seed Nick Suriano, another NCAA champ. That would set him up for a final against 1-seed Zane Richards.

It would take a truly herculean effort for Smith to come out on top of this bracket. That’s not to diminish his skills at all, it just shows how tough this bracket is.

8-seed Mikey Labriola


After a stellar senior season that saw him make it to the Big Ten and NCAA finals, Mikey Labriola is transitioning to freestyle.

Labriola does have some freestyle experience. In 2018, he finished runner-up at both the UWW Junior Nationals and the Junior World Team Trials. He then broke through to win the 2021 U23 World Team Trials, earning a spot on the U23 World Team. But he was a late scratch after a positive covid test.

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

Labriola will likely have to go through 1-seed Chance Marsteller in the quarters if he hopes to upset his way through the bracket. He even might see his recent foil 2-seed Carter Starocci in the finals if he gets there.

And in the event he wins, he’ll earn a spot to take on Jordan Burroughs. What a treat that would be.

“I don’t think you could ask for a better opportunity,” Labriola said. “That would be such a cool moment for a lot of Nebraska people - me and JB in the finals would be something awesome, but I got to make it there first.”

As for as what he remembers from his time rolling with Burroughs in the Husker room?

“I was on my back a lot, that’s for sure. He’s tough, man,” Labriola said. “I learned a lot from taking beatings from him and just watching him in the room. He’s a great role model and he does everything right. He’s an amazing wrestler and he beat me up every day and I’m grateful for all of it.”

9-seed Silas Allred


Fresh off his redshirt freshman season that saw Allred win a Big Ten title and nearly earn All-American honors, Allred is turning his attention towards freestyle.

Silas Allred vs Andrew Davison
Silas Allred
Dylan Guenther / Corn Nation

About to face his first Senior-level competition, Allred does have some age-level success. At last year’s Junior World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, Allred went 3-0 at 92kg to earn a shot at US Open champion Jaxon Smith of Maryland. Allred fell to Smith in a best-of-three series, falling short of earning a U20 World Team spot.

The 92kg field is tough, and Allred is still just starting his college career. I give him props for entering at the Senior level, and I’ll be interested to see what he can do.

12-seed Isaiah White


A former All-American for Nebraska, White has been fairly active on the Senior circuit. He has had some pretty good results along the way, like his 2-2 finish at last year’s World Team Trials.

This week, he’ll face a tough road as the 12-seed against a stacked field.

Dayne Morton


A starter for Nebraska this past season at 149 pounds, Morton went 5-15. He’s a senior but has recently entered the transfer portal.

As an unseeded wrestler, he’ll have a tough time against a field like this.