The first few weeks of the 2022-2023 college wrestling season brought chaos, upsets and memorable moments, but as the season has progressed, things have settled slightly.
Penn State still comfortably leads the country with four No. 1-ranked wrestlers while the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes inch closer to showcasing their full A-team lineup. The Nebraska Huskers won their third consecutive Cliff Keen Invitational last month, and Oklahoma State won Bedlam last weekend. There has been some consistency in this early part of the year, but there are still a couple of high-profile duals this weekend and beyond that could continue to shake up the rankings and predictions.
No. 8 Virginia Tech, No. 15 North Dakota State, No. 16 Nebraska and No. 18 South Dakota State in particular will all be in action on Sunday, so here’s what you need to know about these duals and the athletes to watch:
No. 16 Nebraska vs. No. 18 South Dakota State | 3 p.m. ET Sunday, Dec. 18 | FloWrestling
Despite starting its dual season with a 1-2 record, Nebraska remains a formidable team, and the strength of this group was on full display at the Cliff Keen Invitational last month in Las Vegas. Nebraska left Sin City with three champions — Brock Hardy, Peyton Robb and Mikey Labriola — and the Huskers now head into this dual against the Jackrabbits with momentum on their side.
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Nebraska’s Hardy, Robb, Labriola and 125-pounder Liam Cronin all hold top-ten rankings nationally with Robb and Labriola both sitting at No. 2 in their respective 157 and 174-pound weight classes. Labriola, notably, earned a statement win at the Cliff Keen Invite when he topped 2019 NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis in sudden victory to claim his tournament title.
All three top-ten Husker athletes will be favored in their bouts in the dual with the Jackrabbits, though Hardy will have a tough challenge in No. 13 Clay Carlson while Robb will face No. 22 Cael Swensen and Labriola is expected to dual against No. 18 Cade DeVos.
𝗡𝗖𝗔𝗔 𝗪𝗥𝗘𝗦𝗧𝗟𝗘𝗥 𝗢𝗙 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗪𝗘𝗘𝗞@MikeyLabriola repeated as champion at 174 pounds at the Cliff Keen Invitational. In the finals, he upset top seed Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech, 3-1 in sudden victory.#NCAAWrestling x 🎥 @HuskerWrestling pic.twitter.com/sHQbnv0PSu— NCAA Wrestling (@NCAAWrestling) December 6, 2022
South Dakota State, as a team, has been impressive this year, finishing third this year at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational and making a dramatic improvement from the program’s 26th-place finish in 2019. The Jackrabbits also pushed No. 9 Minnesota in their dual last weekend, and though they couldn’t top the Gophers, the gutsy performances from their stars showed that this team is here to make some noise.
While the Jackrabbits do not have the depth of Nebraska, they have a couple of dangerous athletes in their lineup who have a tendency to put up big points when it matters. South Dakota State’s Tanner Cook, specifically, is a big-time pinner, someone who may take some losses during the year but knows how to put people on their back. At 165 pounds, he’ll be a key player for the Jackrabbits in this matchup, as South Dakota State is favored at just four weights, meaning every match will matter. Cook is currently 8-1 on the year with his only loss coming against Julian Ramirez of Cornell. Though he’s never finished on the podium yet in his career, South Dakota State can likely count on him to rack up some points.
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The Jackrabbits also have the rankings edge at 184 pounds with Cade King, 197 pounds with Tanner Sloan and 285 pounds with AJ Nevills, the South Dakota State big man who upset NCAA finalist Cohlton Schultz in Vegas. Nevills racked up a pin against Minnesota, and he’s currently 6-3. Nebraska will also field ranked opponents at 165, 184 and 197, so look for the Huskers to fight close in those bouts and try to take the lead in the lighter weights behind their All-Americans Robb and Labriola in particular.
.@GoJacksWrestle earned 3rd-place in the team standings at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational! &&&...— #GoJacks 🐰 (@GoJacksSDSU) December 5, 2022
2nd » Tanner Cook
3rd » Tanner Sloan
4th » Cade DeVos
5th » Cade King
6th » Tanner Jordon, Clay Carlson, Cael Swensen, AJ Nevills#GetJacked x #GoJacks 🐰 pic.twitter.com/RTvNgglAX8
Few fans expected Nebraska to lose its season opener against North Dakota State, based on how the Huskers looked on paper. Can South Dakota State deliver a similar upset, or will the Cliff Keen Invite champion Huskers showcase the high potential of their lineup in this Top-25 matchup?
No. 8 Virginia Tech vs. Stanford |6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 | Pac-12 Live
Ranked No. 8 in the country, the Virginia Tech Hokies have been tested in a serious way already this year, battling No. 3 Ohio State team through ten weights before taking a close loss but then rebounding with a huge win over No. 10 Missouri last weekend.
With ranked wrestlers at nearly every weight and a NCAA champion in their lineup, the Hokies have a stacked squad, and they’ll be heavily favored in this weekend’s bout against Stanford.
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Virginia Tech’s biggest strength comes at 174 pounds with NCAA champion Mekhi Lewis, but the Hokies also have a top-ten wrestler at 184 pounds in No. 7 Hunter Bolen and three additional top-15 wrestlers in No. 12 Sam Latona, No. 15 Tom Crook and No. 12 Caleb Henson at 133, 141 and 149 pounds respectively.
Henson has been a breakout star at 149 pounds since he beat NCAA finalist Sammy Sasso of Ohio State in the season-opening dual, and while he has taken losses to All-American Brock Mauller and national qualifier Doug Zapf since then, he’s certainly a podium contender with great potential.
𝓐𝓵𝓶𝓸𝓼𝓽 𝓕𝓻𝓲𝓭𝓪𝔂 🙌— Virginia Tech Wrestling (@HokiesWrestling) November 17, 2022
ACC Wrestler of the Week @CalebHenson06 says keep wakin up. Keep feelin dangerous 🔥😈#feelingdangerous #Team100 #Hokies #ALLINALLTHETIME 🦃 pic.twitter.com/MFHyCvvCLm
Henson will have one of the most exciting matchups of the dual, as he could face Stanford’s Jaden Abas for another test against a top-tier opponent. Abas comes into the dual with a 7-1 record, though he hasn’t faced quite the caliber of competition that Henson has seen so far. This meeting could be a great opportunity for both wrestlers to see where they stack up and assess where they need to improve before conference action begins next month.
Stanford’s best shot for team points comes at 165 pounds, where the Cardinal will roll out NCAA champion Shane Griffith to take on Virginia Tech’s Connor Brady in the only bout where Stanford is favored on paper.
So far this season, Griffith has sailed through the Menlo Open and the Appalachian State Open, racking up an 8-0 record. His best win came against national qualifer Justin McCoy of Virginia, though Brady will likely be his highest ranked foe. Griffith will be expected to win this bout, and this match will be a good tune-up for him ahead of the Southern Scuffle next month.
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While the team score in this dual between the Hokies and the Cardinal may not be as close as the Nebraska vs. South Dakota State dual, the opportunity to watch two NCAA champions in Griffith and Lewis make this dual appointment viewing. The Hokies will also wrestle Lindenwood this weekend as they continue through their non-conference schedule.
No. 15 North Dakota State vs. Little Rock |7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18 | Little Rock All Access
The North Dakota Bison started their season strong with their win over Nebraska, and they racked up two wins since then, one over Binghamton and one against Buffalo. The Bisons' lone loss this year came against Minnesota in a 24-9 fashion, but this North Dakota State team is generating hype and excitement with their performances in general. Led by No. 4 Jared Franek and No. 8 Dylan Droegemueller, there are some underrated powerhouse athletes within this lineup. Franek, at 157 pounds, is 3-1 on the year and fresh off a win against All-American Brayton Lee, and he's on a quest to finish on the podium for the first time in his career.
Jared Franek has been named the Big 12 Wrestler of the Week after two ranked victories in duals, including a win over #4 Brayton Lee of Minnesota! #TakeCharge #GoBison 🦬🤘— NDSU Wrestling (@NDSUwrestling) December 13, 2022
📰: https://t.co/VSkj5jcsKJ pic.twitter.com/rOK3CdKqeD
This weekend's bout against Little Rock will be another opportunity for this Bison program to come in and make a statement, but it's also a chance for the Trojans — a team that never backs down from a challenge — to take on a Big 12 foe before Pac-12 dual season starts.