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IU wrestling looks to boost record in nonconference matches

<p>Redshirt junior Jake Kleimola walks away from the benches Feb. 9 during the wrestling match against Nebraska at Wilkinson Hall. IU will compete against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Sunday in Bloomington.</p>

Redshirt junior Jake Kleimola walks away from the benches Feb. 9 during the wrestling match against Nebraska at Wilkinson Hall. IU will compete against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Sunday in Bloomington.

After nine consecutive Big Ten matches, IU will finish its regular season with matchups against two nonconference opponents.

IU will face off against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Sunday, making it the fourth straight season that the two teams have met. The Hoosiers have collected three wins during the recent contests, including an overall scoring advantage of 82-37. Last year, IU traveled to SIU Edwardsville and brought back a 21-15 victory.

The next two matches against SIU Edwardsville and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will give IU an opportunity to gain momentum heading into the Big Ten Championships on March 7-8. 

“I think that every coach would tell you that you just beat up on each other so much in the Big Ten that it's nice to get a break and face some other opponents,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said after Sunday's match with Nebraska.

The Hoosiers struggled throughout the conference season, posting a 1-8 record. In its last two Big Ten duals, IU was outscored 73-15. 

“It was a tough Big Ten season, but we’re in this conference for a reason,” Escobedo said. “I just keep preaching to our guys that we have to bounce back and be resilient.”

SIU Edwardsville has a 2-11 overall record and failed to earn a win in the Mid-American Conference with an 0-8 mark. The Cougars’ only victories come from matches against West Liberty University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

SIU Edwardsville will wrestle against the University of Missouri on Wednesday before coming to Bloomington on Sunday. IU, however, will have a full week of rest after their match against No. 11 Nebraska on Sunday.

The Cougars and Hoosiers both competed in the Midlands Championships at the end of December. At 157 pounds, freshman Justin Ruffin was the lone wrestler on the podium for SIU Edwardsville, finishing seventh at the tournament. Ruffin was a four-time state champion at Union Grove high school in Georgia.

IU put three wrestlers on the podium at the Midlands Championships with juniors Brock Hudkins and Jake Covaciu and freshman DJ Washington. All three wrestlers, however, may not be in the lineup on Sunday. Hudkins is out for the season after suffering a severe knee injury, Covaciu has been sidelined for the last two weeks with a head injury and Washington is redshirting this year.

Along with Ruffin, 149-pound redshirt senior Tyshawn Williams has been among the more consistent wrestlers for the Cougars. Williams has won his last five matches, boosting his  overall record to 10-5. He qualified for the NCAA championships in the 2017-18 season.

Sunday will be senior night for the Hoosiers, as it marks the last home match of their season.

“They’ve given a lot to the program and we’re very proud of them,” Escobedo said. “The biggest thing is to let them know that this is not it. That night is not your last stop. There’s still the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. After that, you still have this program.”

IU junior Liam Cronin will look to win his seventh match in a row Sunday. During the streak, Cronin has dominated his opponents by a total score of 31-12. Cronin and redshirt freshman Graham Rooks have put themselves in position to make the NCAA championships through their recent success. Rooks went 6-3 during Big Ten duals.

The match will be a chance for the Hoosiers to win their first match since Jan. 26 and bolster their individual records.

“I want to see us use that Big Ten mentality and treat them the same, whether they’re ranked or not,” Escobedo said. “Let’s treat them like they’re Iowa or Nebraska. We can’t take a back seat and think that we can take two weeks off.”

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