The No. 23 IU wrestling team placed 13th out of 14 teams at the Big Ten Championships this weekend in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. With the effort, four Hoosiers are headed to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2014.
IU Coach Duane Goldman said he was proud of the way the Hoosiers competed but hopes this experience will show his squad just how competitive each of them has to be for every second of every match.
Seven-seed and 125-pound sophomore Elijah Oliver made the podium and placed sixth at the Big Tens.
Oliver got off to a strong start and defeated Michael Beck of Maryland, 3-2, to advance to the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinal bout, Oliver took down Ben Thornton of rival Purdue, 5-3.
The win against Thornton advanced Oliver to the semis and punched his ticket to this season's NCAA Championships, where he went 1-2 last season.
Oliver was unable to win his semifinal match and lost to three-seed Tim Lambert of Nebraska, which sent Oliver to the consolation bracket for the final day.
Despite that loss, Goldman said he was pleased with Oliver’s day to lock himself into NCAAs.
“He had a good day,” Goldman said. “In the semis, he has had trouble with Lambert before. Unfortunately that trouble continued, but he is in a good position. He made the semis and will be going to the NCAA Championships. It’s a whole new tournament, and hopefully he is feeling good and ready to go.”
After dropping his consolation semifinal match to four-seed Ethan Lizak of Minnesota, Oliver had one more match — a bout for fifth place that he and the coaches would go on to forfeit due to a knee injury.
With this weekend’s effort and place in the NCAA Championships, Oliver said he is beginning to feel like himself again after overcoming another injury earlier in the season.
“I am starting to feel confident,” Oliver said. “More like my normal self. Getting back into the swing of things, feeling comfortable again, not worrying too much, not being too hesitant and letting loose, being myself.”
Eight-seed and 157-pound sophomore Jake Danishek found a way.
Danishek dropped his first two matches by a combined score of 10-2 against Wisconsin’s TJ Ruschell, a nine seed, and Rutgers’ John Van Brill, a seven seed.
Nevertheless, Danishek responded. In the semifinals of the ninth-place bout, Danishek dominated, securing three takedowns and a riding time point en route to a 7-1 win over 13 seed Justin Alexander of Maryland, setting up a match with 11-seed Jake Ryan of Ohio State for a spot in this year’s NCAA Championships on the final day of the Big Ten Championships.
Danishek took shot after shot trying to get takedowns, and Ryan’s defense held tough through regulation.
After the first seven minutes, the score was tied at one and the match was headed to sudden victory.
With his high school coach, Ted Bray, yelling and fans from every school but Ohio State rooting for him, Danishek got it done and secured a takedown in the sudden victory period.
Danishek gave high-fives to his coaches and some teammates as he went back to the locker room.
“It’s a good feeling,” Danishek said. “To be able to qualify for it is a big step. It’s a big encouragement. I am pretty happy for it, at the same time, there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Another eight seed, this time 174-pound freshman Devin Skatzka, came away with a seventh place finish and 3-2 record.
Skatzka got off to a strong start by defeating nine-seed Micah Barnes from Nebraska, 10-4, to advance to the quarterfinals with a bout against one-seed Bo Jordan of Ohio State.
Skatzka had a 7-4 lead after two periods against Jordan but was unable to complete the upset and surrendered two takedowns in the final period.
After falling to the consolation bracket, Skatzka defeated Minnesota’s Chris Pfarr 10-9 and lost to Alex Meyer of Iowa to set himself up for a seventh-place match against seven-seed Jacob Morrissey of Purdue, whom he lost to earlier this season.
Skatzka avenged that loss by defeating Morrissey 7-4, which landed himself a place on the podium in his first appearance at the Big Ten Championships and a berth to NCAAs.
The Hoosiers’ leader, 184-pound senior Nate Jackson, entered the tournament as a three seed.
Jackson dominated his first match by securing seven takedowns, an escape point and four back points in less than two periods, leading to a 19-3 tech fall victory over Idris White of Maryland.
In his next match, the quarterfinals, Jackson defeated six-seed Emery Parker of Illinois, 6-4, but with consequence. In the last minute of action, Parker got aggressive with a move, and the ref was unable to stop action in time before Jackson’s knee was hurt.
“It was disappointing in the quarters when the guy at the end of the match got a little overaggressive and the ref was not able to stop it in time,” Goldman said. “He got a little damage. It’s not too serious I don’t think and I think he will be ready for Nationals.”
Despite the injury, Jackson gave it a go in the semifinals against two-seed Sammy Brooks but was unable to come away with the victory. Goldman said he was happy with the effort Jackson gave despite not being 100 percent.
Due to the injury, Jackson was kept out of competition on day two, forfeited his matches and coming away with a sixth-place finish.
In the last tournament of the season and the final event of Jackson’s career, he will lead teammates Oliver, Danishek and Skatzka to St. Louis to represent the Hoosiers.
The wrestlers will be ready. The team has preached improvement all season long to get to this point, and the use of the Big Ten Championships gives them an imitation of what the NCAA Championships bring.
“It gives me a smaller imitation,” Oliver said. “It’s a smaller mini-tournament as far as having a lot of people and getting all those matches in. It’s definitely an advantage for us Big Ten wrestlers.”