The lights will be shining on the wrestling mat in Wilkinson Hall on Friday night for the first time this season. A large mat, featuring a cream outline of the state of Indiana, with the crimson IU trident fixed in the center, is stretched across the floor. The lone banner in the stadium, with 1932 National Champions stitched onto the polyester mesh, will be swaying the rafters.
“You walk in and get goosebumps,” junior Jacob Covaciu said. “You don’t have to get a pep talk. When you walk in there you see the lights, and the mat laid out. It’s just a spark. It’s awesome and so much fun.”
Covaciu and the Hoosiers are set to take on North Dakota State University at 7 p.m.
The Bisons enter the matchup with an overall dual record of 1-1. They defeated Cal State Bakersfield University 24-9 to open the season on Nov. 3. Last Sunday, Purdue handed them their first loss 22-12.
IU is familiar with its opponent, as the two teams met last year in the South Beach duals. North Dakota State, who was ranked No. 20 at the time, took home the victory 33-9.
“They wrestle really hard, they attack for seven minutes and they’re really gritty,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said. “When their best guys have those attributes, everyone kind of follows that.”
Earlier in the season, North Dakota State hosted the 49th annual Bison Open, in Fargo, North Dakota. Four Bison wrestlers prevailed with tournament championships. Among the champions was senior Andrew Fogarty in the 165-pound weight group. He is currently No. 9 in his weight class, according to FloWrestling.
Forgarty should present a challenge for the Hoosiers as he is a three-time national qualifier. The senior holds an overall record of 75-31 with 20 pins in his first three years. Fogarty took a major decision 8-0 over freshman and No. 24 ranked Emil Soehnlen of Purdue in the dual last weekend.
North Dakota State also has more experience in 133-pound senior Cam Sykora. Like Fogarty, he is a three-time NCAA qualifier, and recorded a 70-30 record in his first three seasons. The No. 8 ranked Sykora dominated his match against Purdue, winning by technical fall 18-3.
For IU, Covaciu moved up to No. 18 at 174 pounds in Flowrestling’s most recent rankings. He is coming off a runner-up performance at the Black Knight Invite last Sunday.
“I was just being gritty,” Covaciu said. “I think that I did a great job wrestling fearlessly and fighting for every point.”
The Hoosiers could be without arguably two of their most talented wrestlers on Friday in junior Brock Hudkins and sophomore Paul Konrath.
Hudkins, who has been dealing with soreness, is questionable for Friday. Konrath could be sidelined for an extended period of time, even the whole season Escobedo said, as he recovers from an injury he suffered during the team’s trip to New York last weekend.
The long term loss of Konrath would be a big hit to IU’s lineup, as he made an appearance in the national rankings to start the season.
The Hoosiers will plan accordingly though, and Escobedo says they may shift the lineup to fill the hole at 141-pounds.
Even without Hudkins and Konrath, Escobedo is confident in IU’s mindset, and that Friday’s match with set the tone for the rest of the season.
“It’s really important,” Escobedo said about the home opener. “We are trying to create a habit of competing to maximum effort. It can’t be an on-and-off switch. It always has to be on. It’s really important that we flip that switch on, and keep it on the whole year.”