Nebraska finished in 8th-place at the 2023 NCAA Championships with a relatively young team featuring a bunch of new starters.
Starting for the first time last year for Nebraska were Kyle Burwick at 133 pounds, Brock Hardy at 141, Dayne Morton at 149, Lenny Pinto at 184, Silas Allred at 197 and Cale Davidson at 285. Burwick had Division I starting experience at Wisconsin, while Davidson used to wrestle for Wyoming at 197 pounds.
This next year’s team brings back a big chunk of its best contributors, although the Huskers lost two of their best in Liam Cronin and Mikey Labriola (among others). Wrestling at 125, Cronin finished fifth at NCAAs as a senior, while Labriola was an NCAA finalist at 174.
Those won’t be easy shoes to fill, but Nebraska can count on a combination of things for its optimism going into this next season. Not only is NCAA finalist Ridge Lovett returning off of redshirt, Nebraska also brought two-time NCAA qualifier Caleb Smith and three-time qualifier Owen Pentz in as transfers. Then there’s the continued development of that trio of young starters in Hardy, Pinto and Allred.
Add in a big 2023 recruiting class and some talented guys coming off redshirts and there’s a lot to be excited about.
Projected 2023-24 Husker Lineup
* Wrestlers in portal not included here
1. Caleb Smith (Jr.) - 2x NCAA qualifier at App. St.; 2023 SoCon Champ
2. Alan Koehler (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
3. Kael Lauridsen (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Kyle Burwick (Jr.) - 2022-23 starter -OR-
1. Jacob Van Dee (R-Fr.)
3. Hayden Mills (R-Fr.)
4. Drew Cooper (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Brock Hardy (So.) - 2023 All-American
2. Blake Cushing (So.)
3. Ismael Ayoub (R-Fr.)
4. Tanner Frothinger (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Ridge Lovett (Jr.) - 2022 NCAA runner-up
2. Tyler Antoniak (R-Fr.)
3. Weston Dalton (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
4. Cooper French (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Peyton Robb (Sr.) - 2x All-American
2. Antrell Taylor (R-Fr.)
3. Josh Licking (R-Fr)
4. Ethan Stiles (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Bubba Wilson (Jr.) - 2x NCAA qualifier
2. Jagger Condomitti (So.)
3. Griffin Ray (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
4. Chris Minto (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Elise Brown Ton (Jr.)
2. Adam Thebeau (So.)
3. Ethan DeLeon (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Lenny Pinto (So.) - 2023 NCAA qualifier
2. Brandyn Van Tassell (Jr.)
3. Dominic Thebeau (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Silas Allred (So.) - 2023 Big Ten Champion, NCAA qualifier
2. Camden McDanel (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
1. Owen Pentz (Jr.) 3x NCAA qualifier at NDSU (at 197) -OR-
1. Harley Andrews (R-Fr.)
2. Matthew Moore (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
3. Hampton Kaye-Kuter (Fr.) - Likely Redshirt
No. 13 Caleb Smith
Nebraska is going through a wholesale change here this season.
Liam Cronin, a 2023 All-American, is gone. So, the Huskers moved this spring to bring in transfer Caleb Smith from Appalachian State. Smith is 60-16 on his career and has qualified for NCAAs twice. He went 26-7 this past season for App State while winning his first Southern Conference title. He’ll slot in at 125 for Nebraska with two years of eligibility remaining.
What a tough finish from Caleb Smith!— Chain Wrestling (@chain_wrestle) March 8, 2023
The Mountaineer secured his first SoCon Championship after going 3-0 this weekend and punching his ticket to the 2023 NCAA Championships! #ChainWrestling #SoConWrestling #NCAAWrestling #JoinTheChain #Wrestling pic.twitter.com/VXeQMpbDIG
Earlier this summer, Smith competed at the Senior US Open where he went 4-2 and finished seventh. Despite losing a 9-4 decision, Smith was able to give Iowa’s former three-time NCAA champ Spencer Lee a match where the future Husker wore down the former Hawkeye as the match went on.
With the addition of Smith, Nebraska will move freshman Jacob Van Dee, the co-Redshirt of the Year winner, up to compete for the job at 133.
Both Quinton Chavez (So.) and Logan Valledor (R-Fr.) have entered the transfer portal from this weight. Chavez went 11-10 last year, while Valledor was 3-2 while redshirting.
Behind Smith will likely be a pair of true freshmen in Alan Koehler and Kael Lauridsen. Both bring with them impressive accolades in all three forms of wrestling. Koehler looks like a future starter at 125, while Lauridsen seems destined for 133 or higher in the future. Ideally, both will redshirt this season.
Jacob Van Dee -OR- Kyle Burwick
With the addition of Smith, Van Dee gets to move up to a more natural weight of 133 pounds where he’ll take on last year’s starter Kyle Burwick for the job. Nebraska has its longest All-American drought at 133 pounds, going back to when Eric Montoya earned All-American honors in 2017.
The redshirt freshman Van Dee went 10-4 while redshirting last year, earning the Redshirt of the Year award at the team banquet. In a dual, Van Dee lost a narrow 5-3 decision to eventual NCAA finalist Matt Ramos of Purdue (watch that match below) who went on to pin Iowa’s Spencer Lee in the NCAA semis. This could be Nebraska’s chance to really lock this weight down and have some of the consistency they’ve lacked in recent years.
Last season, former Badger Kyle Burwick started the year 10-0 with all of his wins coming in open tournaments while he and Wisconsin were involved in a feud over his eligibility. Eventually, Burwick was given his eligibility for the season by the NCAA. He showed to be a tough competitor but struggled at times, especially on bottom. He finished his year as the starter 3-10 in his final 13 matches, going 1-9 against Big Ten opponents.
With Boo Dryden and Alex Thomsen gone, this job looks like an open competition with redshirt freshman Hayden Mills also in the mix. A former Kansas state champ, Mills went 15-10 last year while redshirting. Drew Cooper comes in fresh off his Nebraska state title for Omaha Skutt — he will likely redshirt.
No. 5 Brock Hardy
Last season, Brock Hardy solidified his spot at 141 pounds after wrestling previously at 149. The former top-shelf recruit, Hardy took an LDS mission out of high school before coming to Nebraska. He then wrestled the free-eligibility Covid year before redshirting the following season.
Then Hardy started all last season for Nebraska, going 30-8 while finishing sixth at NCAAs for All-American honors — while fighting through an injury during his final matches. He was a Big Ten finalist and had some impressive wins on the season. He’ll be a title threat every year he’s in the lineup.
Most recently, Hardy went 7-0 in winning the U23 World Team Trials, earning a spot on the U23 World Team at 65kg. After so much time off the mat after high school, Hardy has rapidly been improving and looks like the real deal to contend for NCAA titles and maybe even a future challenger for Senior World Team and Olympic spots.
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.
Then there’s redshirt freshman Ismael Ayoub and true freshman Tanner Frothinger. Ayoub went 4-2 while redshirting, and Frothinger will likely redshirt this season.
No. 2 Ridge Lovett
After going 24-4 and making it to the Big Ten and NCAA finals in 2021-22, Lovett chose to redshirt this past season. Lovett took one for the team as a freshman and pulled his redshirt to wrestle at 133 pounds where he had a brutal weight cut, so Lovett wanted a year to just focus on development and not competing.
With that year of tutelage under this Husker staff, especially NWTC head coach Tervel Dlagnev, I expect Lovett to come out this year on fire. He’ll be a man on a mission. Some may consider this bold, but I predict an undefeated season with 30+ wins and Big Ten and NCAA titles to go along with it.
Behind Lovett is Tyler Antoniak. A former Nebraska state champ out of Millard South, Antoniak originally went to Arizona State before transferring to Nebraska mid-season, going 2-1 in an open tournament. Antoniak recently wrestled in the U20 US Open and the U20 World Team Trials in Greco-Roman at 72kg (almost 159 pounds), so my guess is he moves up to 157 pounds eventually — if not this year, then next. Antoniak made it to the WTT challenge tournament finals and finished fifth at the US Open.
If Antoniak moves up this year, we could see a number of moves among Nebraska’s backups. At 141, Ayoub would likely back up Hardy, while Cushing could move up to back up Lovett. Antoniak moving up to 157 would also allow his former teammate at Millard South Antrell Taylor to move up and compete for the job at 165.
Nebraska will also have true freshmen Weston Dalton and Cooper French at this weight. Both are likely to redshirt.
No. 3 Peyton Robb -AND/OR- Antrell Taylor
This weight will be interesting this year. Talking to Nebraska’s athletic trainer Tyler Weeda, the plan is for Peyton Robb to be back this coming season after a major scare with a skin infection at the NCAA Championships and after. Robb went through some serious trauma and multiple surgeries, so it’s unclear when he’ll be able to get back on the mat.
But when he’s out there, Robb is one of the best in the country and I fully expect him to contend for a national title if he’s healthy. It’s also possible that he’ll be eased into action, giving a guy like Antrell Taylor a chance to shine.
Taylor just won gold at the U20 Pan-Am Championships at 70kg. Before that, he finished second at both the U20 US Open (see his win over Iowa State’s Paniro Johnson below) and the U20 World Team Trials after going 10-5 during his redshirt year. The co-Redshirt of the Year winner, Taylor was 0-1 in dual action after losing to Top-10 ranked Kendall Coleman late in the year.
Last year’s backup Nic Stoltenberg entered the transfer portal in April.
Nebraska also has sophomore-to-be Josh Licking as well as Ethan Stiles, a true freshman who’ll likely redshirt. He’s one of the best in this year’s impressive class and just finished in 5th place at the U20 World Team Trials at 70kg. He won’t be sitting on the sideline for long.
No. 11 Bubba Wilson -OR- Antrell Taylor
The possiblility of Taylor moving up to 165 completely hinges on Robb’s availability this coming season. Assuming he’ll be ready, Taylor could move up during Robb’s senior season and challenge Bubba Wilson for the job before moving back down in 2024-25 to take over for Robb.
Wilson, a two-time NCAA qualifier, is a decent starter but he’s 31-29 in his career entering his junior year. He’s a tough wrestler who’s really good defensively, but Taylor could be an upgrade with his higher ceiling and offensive prowess. Regardless, Wilson has had some big-time performances during his career, so this weight will be one to watch this year.
Wilson showed earlier this summer that he’s really improving as he went 10-1 at the U23 World Team Trials to finish in 3rd place as the 23-seed. He certainly impressed me with that performance and he may be in line to be Nebraska’s most improved wrestler this coming season if he keeps his spot in the lineup. If he gets beat out at 165, he could also jump to 174 to challenge for that spot.
Beyond Wilson and Taylor (possibly), there’s former Pennsylvania state champion Jagger Condomitti. A sophomore to be, Condomitti went 3-5 last year. He was 0-2 in duals. Despite a rough redshirt freshman season, I think the former top-level recruit could surprise some people here.
The Huskers also got a late commitment out of Chris Minto from Florida — he’ll likely redshirt.
Elise Brown Ton
For the first time in five years, Nebraska will be without Mikey Labriola here. A four-time NCAA All-American and a 2023 finalist, Labriola is now in the Top 10 on Nebraska’s career wins chart. His 120-29 career record puts him in 9th place.
Waiting in the wings has been Elise Brown Ton, a Texas native. Brown Ton hasn’t gotten a lot of mat time outside of open tournaments the past two seasons, but he’s 29-6 in his career with a 1-0 dual record, downing Purdue’s Macartney Parkinson 6-3 in this year’s dual.
Serving as Labriola’s backup last year, Brown Ton went an impressive 19-2 with a pair of close decision losses to Division I opponents. He’s certainly the front runner to earn the vacant job at 174.
Competing in the U23 division at the World Team Trials at 79kg (174 pounds) this summer, Brown Ton had some impressive wins, going 5-2 but failing to place.
Possibly moving up from 165 will be Adam Thebeau. Thebeau went 10-4 last year with an 0-2 record in duals. Thebeau recently competed in the U20 US Open, going 4-2 at 79kg.
Nebraska will also have a true freshman here that will likely redshirt in Ethan DeLeon.
No. 15 Lenny Pinto
This past season, Pinto came on and took the job at 184 pounds as a redshirt freshman. He was impressive throughout the year, showing a penchant for big moves while going 24-11 and qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
The sophomore-to-be Pinto has a hold on this weight and should go on to be a four year starter. He fell short of placing at nationals but he has sky-high potential. His strength is at times overwhelming for his opponents. With continued seasoning, he’ll be an All-American for the Huskers in short order.
Behind Pinto is Brandyn Van Tassell, a junior-to-be. Van Tassell went 7-3 last season and holds a 13-8 career record for the Huskers. He’s 0-2 in duals in his career.
Nebraska also brings in freshman Dominic Thebeau, younger brother of Adam. Dominic projects at 174 or 184 and will likely redshirt.
No. 5 Silas Allred
Much like 141 and 184, this is a weight that Nebraska seemingly has locked down for the next three years as Silas Allred returns after a breakout redshirt freshman season. Allred finished the year with a 28-7 record while capturing a Big Ten championship at 197 pounds. He also qualified for NCAAs but fell one win short of All-American honors.
Allred twice beat Penn State’s returning NCAA champion Max Dean last season, showing he can go with the best in the country. Allred beat him in the Big Ten final and again at NCAAs (see below).
Allred has been busy this summer on the freestyle circuit. He went 4-2 and finished in 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.
Behind Allred will likely be true freshman Camden McDanel. The incoming recruit just won the U20 US Open at 97kg, giving him a bye to the best-of-three finals at the World Team Trials. McDanel then beat Steven Burrell Jr. twice in a row, earning him a spot on the U20 World Team at 97kg. He also just captured gold along with Taylor at the U20 Pan-Am Championships.
McDanel will likely redshirt this year, but it will be tough for Allred to hold him off for the next two seasons. Also a possibility, with McDanel competing at 97kg (214 pounds) out of high school, is that he could pack on some mass and compete at heavyweight for the Huskers. He’s too talented to keep out of the lineup once his redshirt season is done.
Last year’s backup Nathan Wemstrom is currently in the transfer portal.
Harley Andrews -OR- Owen Pentz
Nebraska lost both of its starting heavies from a year ago in Cale Davidson and Austin Emerson. Neither qualified for NCAAs, so the Huskers are hoping to upgrade this year. Nebraska brought in a late transfer in Owen Pentz from North Dakota State to compete with redshirt freshman Harley Andrews.
Pentz comes in as a three-time NCAA qualifier at 197 pounds and will bulk up in an attempt to compete for the heavyweight job. The junior-to-be has a 45-24 career record.
Andrews redshirted this past year and went 22-2 on the year with an 0-1 dual record. A former three-time state champ out of Oklahoma, Andrews has a pretty high ceiling but may struggle a bit until he puts more weight on his frame.
Andrews recently competed at the U20 US Open where he went 3-3 at 125kg, finishing in fifth place. He then went 2-2 at the U20 WTT, finishing in 4th place.
Behind Pentz and Andrews will be a pair of true freshmen in Matthew Moore and Hampton Kaye-Kuter. Moore is the No. 10-ranked heavyweight in the country according to FloWrestling. Both will likely redshirt.