For the first time since 2014, the Hoosiers will send four wrestlers to this weekend's NCAA Championships in St. Louis, Missouri, as three underclassmen will make the trip with their leader, 184-pound senior Nate Jackson.
Last season just two Hoosiers made it to this point - Jackson and 125-pound then-freshman Elijah Oliver. Oliver, now a sophomore who will return to the national title meet, said he's looking forward to traveling and competing with the extra two wrestlers.
“It makes it feel like more of a team atmosphere rather than two individuals going out there,” Oliver said. “Having a guy like Nate, he’s been there and he’s done it, you have to use him to look at how he is taking everything and use that in your arsenal as well.”
Coming along with Jackson and Oliver this year are 174-pound freshman Devin Skatzka and 157-pound sophomore Jake Danishek, who will both make their NCAA Championship debuts.
Skatzka will meet two-seed Brian Realbuto of Cornell to open his weekend. Skatzka said he sees an opportunity heading into the match.
“I was expecting a tough draw,” Skatzka said. “I figured I would be unseeded. I just look at it as an opportunity to take on the two seed. It’s someone that is probably looking over me, I see that as a great opportunity.”
Oliver is set to take the mat against Oklahoma State’s eight seed Nick Piccininni. Oliver said he learned from last year's NCAAs that no matter whom he wrestles against, it will present a rare opportunity he must take advantage of.
Danishek qualified for the NCAAs in dramatic fashion, winning two do-or-die matches at the Big Tens to secure his spot in St. Louis. He will see a familiar Big Ten foe in two seed Michael Kemerer from Iowa to open his NCAA Championships.
Danishek has been wrestling since he was eight years old and said this opportunity is something he has always wanted.
“I am really excited,” Danishek said. “This is something you train towards all year. You come into practice in mind of the NCAA Tournament. Being able to make that step in the right direction is certainly excited.”
Jackson will enter the tournament as the only seeded Hoosier, coming in at No. 8 in his weight class. He will bout with Alexander DeCiantis of Drexel to begin the final college tournament of his career.
The senior said he is not looking ahead in the brackets, because he said it will do him little good.
“The tournament is so unpredictable, every bracket is tough, has guys that are tough and has guys who may not have wrestled their best until the NCAA Tournament," Jackson said. "I am trying to get focused and do everything I can do right now to be ready to go.”
With Jackson as the undisputed leader of the team, the underclassmen will look to him during this weekend as an opportunity to learn and stay composed as their matches come up.
Skatzka said he knows Jackson will answer any questions he has but that he will also be able to do a great job of not allowing anyone to get too hyped up, making sure everyone stays calm and focused for each of their matches.
The Hoosiers said they are excited and ready to compete and represent IU well. Regardless of what happens this weekend, Jackson said he is thankful for his time at IU and wants the fans to remember him for two things.
“It’s been a long journey,” Jackson said. “There is a lot of positivity to look forward to. The legacy I want to leave is success and the type of guys we are, high character guys.”