Four of Nebraska’s seven national qualifiers last season were freshmen. Two of its three All-Americans were freshmen, as well.
That infusion of youth helped the Huskers finish ninth at the NCAA championships, the fourth straight season Nebraska placed in the top 10 at nationals.
But Mark Manning thinks that could be only the beginning for this group.
“I think we’re scratching the surface of where our team can go,” said Manning, who enters his 19th year as NU’s coach. “I think we could have been top five last year. We had a good NCAA tournament. We could have been better. I look at perfection, I want excellence. That’s what we’re looking for.”
That quest begins Sunday when NU opens its season at the Daktronics Open in Brookings, South Dakota.
With five national qualifiers and seven starters back, Nebraska was ranked 12th when the NWCA poll was released Wednesday. In the InterMat preseason rankings, seven NU individuals are ranked in the top 15 in their weight classes.
Leading the way is two-time All-American Tyler Berger, the team’s only four-year starter who is 12 wins away from 100 for his career. He placed third at nationals last season at 157 pounds.
“He’s got a lot of experience and he’s been a winner for us. We’re looking for a big year from him,” Manning said.
Nebraska’s other returning All-Americans are sophomores CJ Red, who placed seventh at 141, and Taylor Venz, who was fourth at 184. Venz started his season Friday by competing at the NWCA All-Star Classic in Denver, which features the top collegiate wrestlers competing in a dual format. Venz was the first Husker to take part in the All-Star Classic since 2015.
While Isaiah White (165) and Eric Schultz (197) are NU’s other returning national qualifiers, the Huskers expect to receive a boost from 125-pound senior transfer Zeke Moisey.
Moisey was a two-time All-American at West Virginia — he placed eighth at nationals last season — but will spend his final year of eligibility as a Husker.
“He’s won a lot of matches in his time,” Manning said. “We’re fortunate to get Zeke.”
Moisey is ranked seventh by InterMat at 125, while another newcomer to NU’s lineup, Mikey Labriola, is ranked 12th at 174. Labriola was NU’s redshirt of the year last season when he compiled an 18-2 record.
“He’s going to be fantastic,” Manning said. “He’s going to be a fan favorite. He puts points on the board. He’s aggressive, he brings a lot of energy. He’s going to be fun to watch.”
Manning said the starting spots at 133, 149 and heavyweight are still being contested.
As for the schedule, the Big Ten will be as strong as ever when the Huskers start their dual season. Eleven of the top 19 teams in the coaches’ poll are from the Big Ten, including top three Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa.
Nov. 4: Daktronics Open, Brookings, S.D. 10: Northeast Duals, Albany, N.Y. 16: Wisconsin. 18: at Wyoming. Nov. 30.-Dec. 1: Cliff Keen Invite, Las Vegas. Dec. 15: at North Carolina. 16: at North Carolina State. Jan. 6: Northwestern. 12: Northern Iowa. 18: at Maryland. 20: at Penn State. 27: Illinois. Feb. 1: at Rutgers. 3: Iowa. 8: Minnesota. 17: at Ohio State. 23: Stanford. March 9-10: Big Tens at Minneapolis. 21-23: NCAAs at Pittsburgh.