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Led by the return of five super seniors, Husker wrestlers aim for a top-10 finish in 2021-22

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Minnesota vs. Nebraska, 1.8

Nebraska's Mikey Labriola (top) rolls Minnesota's Jake Allar onto his back before pinning him in the 174-pound match Jan. 8 at the Devaney Sports Center.

Nebraska head wrestling coach Mark Manning speaks at the NU athletics press conference on Monday, Nov. 15, 2021.

This year’s Nebraska wrestling team has a lot to prove.

After a disappointing 12th-place finish at the NCAA Championships last March in St. Louis, there were a lot of question marks heading into the offseason for the Huskers, especially when it came to the five seniors who had a choice of whether or not to return to campus.

However, there really wasn’t much of a discussion. All five came back without hesitation. As a result, Nebraska returns eight of nine NCAA qualifiers for what could be another top-10 season.

Leading the way will be the five super seniors who decided to use their extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19 — Liam Cronin (125 pounds), Chad Red (141), Taylor Venz (184), Eric Schultz (197) and Christian Lance (285).

Other returners include sophomore Ridge Lovett at 149, Peyton Robb at 157 and Mikey Labriola at 174.

If anyone is primed to deliver Nebraska its first individual national championship since 2011, it’s Labriola.

The Pennsylvania native led Nebraska at the NCAA Championships last season with a third-place finish and comes into the new year with a No. 3 national ranking. As revealed by coach Mark Manning on Monday, Labriola will be good to go for Wednesday’s home dual against North Carolina after sitting out last week due to COVID-19 protocols.

Robb could also surprise some people this season. The sophomore moved down to his more natural weight at 157 pounds after moving up last season to take the place of former All-American Isaiah White.

Robb won’t have too much time to warm up — he’s slated to face the Tar Heels' Austin O’Connor, the defending national champion at 157, when the No. 10 Huskers take on No. 14 North Carolina.

“We’re just trying to worry about Peyton,” Manning said. “He’s the toughest dude out there. We want him to walk on the mat and show us his will.”

The biggest questions for this team are at 133 and 165. Iowa native Alex Thomsen will get the nod at 133 after the sophomore went 13-15 in his first season before competing in a reserve role last season.

At 165, redshirt freshman Bubba Wilson will get the start after going 1-1 last week. The Manhattan, Kansas, native went 19-1 last season competing unattached.

This is once again a top-10 lineup filled with veteran leadership and proven underclassman. Despite unknowns at a couple of key weights, the team will only go as far as the five super seniors take them.

Many returning Huskers were part of the program-best runner-up finish at the Big Ten Tournament in 2020.

Everyone will truly get to see how prepared the team is when the No. 10 Huskers take on North Carolina. According to Manning, this is what his team needs.

“It’s important, we need to be tested,” he said. “I think it just shows the culture of your team and what you need to work on. It’s early, our season's long like basketball, it goes all the way to March. You’re never a finished product, you’ve got to have your 'A' game each time.”

Wednesday's dual will begin at 8 p.m. at the Devaney Sports Center and be televised by BTN.

Briefly

* This is the 16th all-time meeting between Nebraska and North Carolina, with the most recent being a 22-15 Husker victory in December 2018.

* Nov. 5 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of former Husker Christian Miller. He will be honored with a moment of silence and video tribute Wednesday.

 

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