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IU wrestling takes on Chattanooga in final regular season test



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Redshirt junior Liam Cronin wrestles Nebraska redshirt freshman Alex Thomsen Feb. 9 at Wilkinson Hall. IU will compete against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at 7 p.m. Friday on the road. Joy Burton

IU wrestling will look to string together its first two-match winning streak this season when it takes on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga at 7 p.m. Friday.

IU knocked off the University of Southern Illinois Edwardsville 24-11 on Sunday in Wilkinson Hall in the final match of the season. 

“It’s a confidence booster,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said. “You could see the way that they carried themselves off of the mat, and hopefully we can follow that up in Chattanooga.”

Both squads will enter Friday coming off a win. Chattanooga went on the road Sunday and defeated The Citadel 39-9. The win improved the Mocs’ record to 6-9 on the season.

Earlier in the year, Chattanooga also squared off against SIU Edwardsville. The Mocs handled the Cougars in a 29-14 score that is very similar to the Hoosiers’ outcome on Sunday. 

SIU Edwardsville wasn’t the only common opponent for the two teams. Chattanooga fell to Illinois 22-10 in November. The Hoosiers weren’t as competitive because they dropped their match 32-3 to the Illini.

Despite its losing record, Chattanooga has three ranked wrestlers, as opposed to IU’s two. 

Sophomore No. 23 Tanner Smith from Chattanooga and redshirt freshman No. 14 Graham Rooks could meet in a top-25 bout on Friday.

Rooks, who turned a six-point deficit into a two-point win against SIU Edwardsville, has won seven of his last nine matches.

Smith was named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team after finishing runner-up at the conference tournament last year. This year, Smith boasts a 22-7 overall record.

“I’m definitely looking forward to the NCAA's and the Big Ten Tournament coming up, but I still have to take it one match at a time and not look too far forward,” Rooks said Sunday. “I have to focus on one match at a time.”

Another marquee matchup could surface at 125 pounds between junior No. 23 Liam Cronin and Chattanooga's No. 17 Fabian Gutierrez.

Gutierrez, a junior, was named the SoCon Wrestler of the Month as a sophomore. In his junior campaign this year, he has racked up 16 victories, including a 6-0 conference record and three technical fall wins.

Cronin has put together a seven-match winning streak dating to Jan. 20 against Purdue. He also added a technical fall victory of his own Sunday in a convincing 20-5 route.

After IU trounced SIU Edwardsville on Sunday, Chattanooga appears to present an even contest.

IU will have a full two weeks to recover and prepare for the conference tournament after Friday’s meeting.

The extra break could give 174-pound junior Jake Covaciu more time to recover from the head injury he suffered against Maryland on Jan. 26. Covaciu has missed the last four matches, and since his exit, IU has failed to win a match at 174 pounds.

With a win, the Hoosiers would take a multiple match win streak into the Big Ten Championships on March 7-8 in Piscataway, New Jersey.

“If you have a lot of confidence you can upset anyone in the country,” Escobedo said. “For us it’s about putting another weekend together. Let’s get another win and then steam roll into the Big Ten Tournament and get some upsets and get more guys to Nationals.”

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