After two key injuries to IU wrestlers, the arrest of another and a handful of tournaments later, the conference season is upon the Hoosiers.
IU will host No. 1 Iowa Friday in Wilkinson Hall.
So far, the juggernauts from Iowa City have an unscathed dual match record of 4-0. The 23-time national championship-winning Hawkeyes are eyeing their 24th this year.
Iowa’s season started back on Nov. 17, 2019, when it faced the University of Chattanooga. The Hawkeyes shut out in a match of the Mocs, as Iowa demolished the Chattanooga by a score of 39-0.
Iowa went on the road to Iowa State University for a top-15 clash. But the Hawkeyes embarrassed the Cyclones 29-6 in front of its home crowd.
Then came a 32-3 win over No. 6 ranked Wisconsin. It was a resounding statement to the rest of the Big Ten.
The tone is set by junior Spencer Lee, a two-time national champion who is ranked No.1 in the 125-pound weight class. Every other Hawkeye in the lineup is also ranked in the top-25 in their respective weight classes.
On the contrary, the Hoosiers are nursing a relatively depleted lineup.
IU junior Brock Hudkins, who was out of competition for more than a month after dealing with injuries, made his return to the mat on Dec. 29-30 at the Midlands Championships in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. He came in as IU’s highest ranked wrestler at No. 6 in the nation at 125 pounds.
Hudkins advanced into the semifinals before having to withdraw mid-match after his leg was awkwardly twisted. Hudkins was visibly upset, pounding his fist against the mat while the medical staff rushed to his side.
“I feel for Brock just because all the work that he has put in,” Escobedo said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Hudkins was taken in for an MRI on New Years Eve, but Escobedo said the onsite doctors didn’t believe that the injury would end his season.
“We’re optimistic that he will be back,” Escobedo said.
The loss of Hudkins will leave more uncertainty for the Hoosiers, as he will be the third wrestler in IU’s initial starting lineup to be forced out of action.
Sophomore Paul Konrath, who was ranked in the top-25 at one point at 141-pounds, will be out for the rest of the season after suffering his third concussion.
On Christmas Eve, 133-pound starter Kyle Luigs was arrested and is suspended indefinitely.
“It goes to show that everybody matters in a program,” Escobedo said. “Your opportunity could be at any moment. Everyone has to be ready and training like they are ‘the guy.'”
Despite the adversity the program dealt with over the last couple of weeks, freshman Donnell Washington and junior Jake Covaciu both had strong weekends in Illinois. The Hoosiers had three placers: Covaciu in fifth, Washington in sixth and Hudkins in sixth, despite his injury.
Overall, Iowa took home the title at the Midlands with 196.5 points. IU finished in the middle of the pack in 17th place, totaling 34 points and continuing its inconsistent season.
Friday will be a demanding day for the IU wrestlers as many of them will be outmatched, at least in the rankings.
For Escobedo, more questions will come. Who will start at 133-pounds? How will the lineup function without Hudkins? How will the Hoosiers respond?
But, for that, Escobedo answers with some questions of his own to his team.
“You’re facing the number one team,” Escobedo said. “What are you going to do with it? Are you going to back down? Or take the challenge?”
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