In the 2011 event, IU’s Matt Plowless took the title in the 197-pound weight class.
IU will be hosts for the first time this season at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, in the University Gym against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Last season was a strenuous year for the team, with a bright spot of Taylor Walsh’s finshing second in the NCAA Championships.
“Difficult, it was a difficult year,” IU Coach Duane Goldman said. “We had a good freshman class that we redshirted, and as a result we ended up having six walk-ons in our starting lineup.”
Despite the tough season, Goldman said many positive things were taken from the year, including increased chemistry between the wrestlers.
“I think in a lot of ways it made out team closer,” Goldman said. “They had to rely on each other and know that everybody has a role.”
Throughout the off-season, the wrestlers have worked hard together and separately to better prepare for the season ahead. Realizing everyone has a role is something Goldman said he has seen translate to this season.
Goldman said he sees a great attitude and willingness to work hard and continue improving for the upcoming season.
In the offseason, the team brought on new assistant coach Travis Pascoe.
Pascoe wrestled at Nebraska and qualified for the NCAA Championships four times. He also has prior coaching experience with Fresno State, Oregon State and Brown.
Goldman said he wanted an upper strength coach with some valuable coaching at the college level to bring to the program.
This year’s team is young, similar to last season. Despite many freshman redshirts redshirting last season, they are still freshmen with little time on a mat in a college wrestling atmosphere.
“We may start as many as seven freshmen in our lineup,” Goldman said. “So, while that may be good for the future, they are still pretty young.”
The youth does not stop the team from the desire to accomplish many things this season, including catching the nation’s attention.
“Hungry,” redshirt junior Nate Jackson said. “We were hungry last year and still have to make a name for ourselves now.”
Wrestling in the Big Ten is a challenge that the team embraces.
“Ruthless,” redshirt sophomore Luke Blanton said. “Every match is tough, wrestling top guys in the nation. You have to fight for every point.”
Goldman said he firmly believes the majority of the top wrestlers choose to wrestle in the Big Ten.
“It’s where the big dogs run,” Goldman said. “The big players, in general, go to the Big Ten.”
Blanton said he wants the team to find ways to get more Big Ten wins in the dual meets. He said he believes it would provide a great confidence boost for the team.
Jackson, an NCAA Championship participant last season, has taken one thing away from Walsh, an NCAA runner-up for IU last season.
“I am not really a pinner, and Taylor was a prolific pinner,” he said. “I have taken some things this year so I can get some pins and put some guys away this year.”
While having excitement to start the season, Blanton and Jackson said nerves and anxiety are things that still affect wrestlers when approaching the first match of the season.
Blanton said he always has nerves during the weigh-in process due to having to make his weight. Also, anxiety racks up during warm-ups, but he said it disappears the second he hits the mat.
Jackson said his faith and prayer routine help him relax and get in the zone before getting on the mat for each match.
“I am anxious and nervous until I pray,” Jackson said. “I pray before every match and then everything is good, but until I am centered, it’s all over the place.”
Blanton will not be wrestling this weekend due to an injury he suffered at the beginning of the season.
“I sprained my ankle the first practice of the season,” he said. “I could have possibly wrestled this weekend, but we decided it was best to play it safe.”
Despite any nervous feelings entering Saturday, the team will enter the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with plenty of excitement and expectation to compete.
“Really excited, really excited,” Jackson said. “We should be right up there, with our redshirts and our starting lineup, we should at least be the top three.”
Big Ten foe Ohio State will be at the EMU Open, and the team is open to an early-season challenge.
“I think Ohio State is there, and I think they have the No. 1 ranked guy in my way,” Jackson said. “If he wrestles then I’m down, I’m ready.”