The Hoosiers sent four wrestlers to this year’s NCAA Championships in St. Louis, which was the most since 2014, and the program returns to Bloomington with a two-time All-American in 184-pound senior Nate Jackson.
IU Coach Duane Goldman said he was proud of Jackson, and he has been a role model for a lot of people since he got to IU.
“He is able to handle so much and compete at a high level,” Goldman said. “Even to adapt and make changes. Last year he wrestled 174, went up a weight and chose to wrestle in the deepest weight class in the country.”
In addition to Jackson, the Hoosiers competed with NCAA returnee 125-pound sophomore Elijah Oliver, 157-pound sophomore Jake Danishek and 174-pound freshman Devin Skatzka, both of whom made their NCAA Championships debuts.
Oliver, Danishek and Skatzka all saw their NCAA runs come to an end after dropping their first two matches.
Oliver sprung out to early leads in both his matches but was unable to finish the job.
He opened his tournament against eight-seed and Big 12 Champion Nick Piccininni of Oklahoma State. Oliver was pinned to put himself into the consolation bracket.
In the second session, Oliver took the mat with Big Ten foe Johnny Jimenez of Wisconsin. Oliver took an early 2-0 lead but was unable to defend Jimenez’s shots, which led to a 7-3 defeat and the end of Oliver’s tournament.
Danishek’s first trip to the NCAAs matched him up against two of the nation’s top wrestlers in his class, the first being two-seed Michael Kemerer from Iowa.
Danishek battled hard and escaped on four separate occasions, but fell to Kemerer 14-4, and moved to consolation.
In session two, Danishek battled Wyoming’s 15-seed Archie Colgan. Danishek was unable to mount a comeback after being down 7-3 in the middle of the third period, losing 9-6 and ending his sophomore campaign.
Similar to Danishek, Skatzka saw a two-seed to open the NCAAs in Cornell’s Brian Realbuto.
Skatzka tallied four points against the two seed, but it was not enough, as he lost by tech-fall, 19-4.
Skatzka entered the consolation bracket against another Ivy League opponent, Princeton’s Jonathan Schleifer.
In the midst of the third period, both wrestlers were taking shots, and Skatzka was taken down and got stuck, which resulted in a pin during a tight match to end Skatzka’s freshman campaign.
Jackson opened the last tournament of his IU career as the nine seed and faced Drexel’s Alex DeCiantis first.
Jackson showed his experience and composure, dominating the match and winning by major decision, 13-4.
The Illinois native went on to the round of 16 where he met eight-seed Jack Dechow of Old Dominion.
Through two periods, Jackson recorded two takedowns and an escape point, giving him a 5-2 lead with two minutes left.
Jackson surrendered an escape point and takedown in the final period, tying the match at five and headed to sudden victory where Dechow found a takedown, sending Jackson to the consolation bracket.
Day two was a busy day for Jackson. He opened his second day with Cleveland State’s Nick Corba. In 1:48, the Hoosier recorded a takedown and four back points before securing a pin to continue his push for the podium.
Jackson then took the mat with 16-seed Jordan Ellingwood of Central Michigan to end the third session.
Jackson started the match fast and led 6-2 after the first period and sprung to a 9-6 victory and a session-four battle with Illinois’ 11-seed Emery Parker for a shot at All-America status.
Prior to the NCAA Championships, Jackson defeated Parker 9-6 and 6-4. This bout saw less scoring, but the result did not change.
After regulation the match was even at 1-1 and Jackson was headed to sudden victory once again. Jackson secured the only takedown of the match, winning 3-1 and locking himself as an All-American for the second year in a row.
Despite the tight score, Jackson knew he had tired Parker down, allowing Jackson to be all over him in the sudden victory period.
“The unfortunate part of wrestling is you have to crush someone else’s dreams to achieve your own,” Jackson said. “That was big. He tried to defend and I was all over him, it was a good victory.”
Jackson took the mat with Nebraska’s TJ Dudley where Jackson’s winning streak came to an end in a 4-0 loss.
Day three saw one more opportunity and match to conclude Jackson’s career. In a battle for seventh place, Jackson put on the IU singlet one last time against 12-seed Drew Foster of Northern Iowa and lost, which handed Jackson an eighth place finish to go with his All-America honor.
Jackson said he wants to be remembered for both winning and the character he and his teammates bring to every dual or tournament.
Jackson’s career ends with 103 career wins as just the 20th two-time All-American in IU wrestling history, the seventh in Goldman’s tenure as head coach, and with 103 career wins.
With this success, Jackson understands there is more to life than taking the mat.
“I am most proud of the relationships I built,” Jackson said. “Those things last way longer than this. I think this is just an opportunity to showcase our talent. For the nation to recognize you for something is special, but at the end of the day I go back home with a wife and kids, family I love. They are proud of me, and they are here to support me. That’s the most important thing.”