A Bounce-Back Effort Pushed NU Wrestlers Into Top Five Finish at Nationals
By Nick Rubek
And you thought your neighbors were noisy.
Try living next to Nebraska wrestlers Mikey Labriola and Ridge Lovett. Maybe more specifically, Rocco and Vinny, their dogs.
“They are the ones wrestling all day long,” Labriola said of the canine duo.
After wrapping up their season in late March, the roommates will turn their attention to something altogether different – training their puppies to become support animals.
They’ll soon be more shadows than companions, going everywhere Labriola and Lovett go. If you see Mikey and Ridge, you’ll probably see Rocco and Vinny, too.
“We both grew up with dogs,” said Lovett, a sophomore from Post Falls, Idaho. “We were like, ‘This will be great, let’s get some puppies. Why not?'”
The future of NU wrestling, Labriola and Lovett have found connections through more than just man’s best friend.
“We feed off each other a little bit,” said Labriola, a junior from Easton, Pennsylvania.
His Italian heritage has rubbed off on Lovett, who is called “Lovetti” by Labriola’s father. And Lovett has introduced Labriola to hunting and fishing, among his favorite things to do back in Idaho.
Both say they’re looking forward to leading the Husker program into next season.
“Ridge, man, he’s really starting to pop off,” Labriola said. “It’s exciting to know you’ve got more times with these guys to work.”
They’ll be the leaders on a team coming off a fifth-place showing at the NCAA tournament, as Nebraska rebounded from a disappointing Big Ten tournament – finishing outside the top five for the first time since 2015 – to record the program’s best team finish at nationals since 2009.
Two of the Huskers’ five All-Americans live under the same roof.
Lovett highlighted the weekend for Nebraska, making a run to the finals at 149-pounds before falling 11-5 to returning national champion Yianni Diakomihalis of Cornell.
Along the way, the 10th-seeded Lovett pinned No. 2 Tariq Wilson of North Carolina State in the quarterfinals, then edged Virginia Tech’s Bryce Andonian 5-4 to reach the title match.
After not having a finalist at last year’s national tournament, Lovett put the Huskers back in the Saturday night spotlight with his runner-up finish.
Labriola joined an exclusive NU fraternity with his seventh-place finish at 174 pounds, becoming a four-time All-American. It’s just the third time a Husker wrestler has achieved the feat.
“Proud of our team and each of our guys!,” Husker coach Mark Manning tweeted after the NCAA tournament. “There (sic) buy in of effort and mentality to be a complete competitor is inspiring! Keep setting new standards – We’re just getting started: #GBR.”
Nebraska will have three returning All-Americans next season as sophomore Peyton Robb finished fourth at 157, winning five straight consolation matches at one point. Robb ran into returning national champion David Carr of Iowa State in the third-place match, losing 7-2.
A pair of seniors garnering All-American status for the first time gave Nebraska five medalists on the weekend at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Eric Schultz, who was second at the Big Ten tournament, finished seventh at nationals at 197. Schultz was seeded third, but lost to No. 6 Jacob Warner of Iowa in the quarterfinals before going 2-1 in the consolation rounds.
The lengthy career of heavyweight Christian Lance, who finished eighth at the NCAA tournament, also came to an end.
After the bumpy Big Ten weekend in early March, where Nebraska finished seventh, Lance foreshadowed the bounce back performance in Detroit.
“People from the outside looking in probably think we’re a little bit goofball,” he said. “But when we’re in the room, everyone is scrapping. Everybody scraps hard, everybody’s training hard. I think when it’s showtime, when nationals come around, we’re always going to be on our ‘A’ game.”
Lance, in his seventh year of wrestling collegiately after transferring from Fort Hays State, said the thing he’ll miss most about wrestling at Nebraska is the daily grind.
“That’s what I love,” Lance said. “That’s why I transferred here from Fort Hays. This is my life, and it’s what I love to do.
“If they gave me an eighth year, I’d take it. If they gave me a ninth and a 10th, I’d stay.”
He isn’t done with the sport, though. Lance plans to stick around Lincoln and train to wrestle at the senior level. He wants to “try to meet whatever my genetic potential is.”
“Whatever is the absolute best wrestling that I can produce,” Lance said, “I want to achieve that.”