IU head coach Angel Escobedo said he could see the Hoosiers’ five seniors radiate confidence as they stepped onto the mat in Wilkinson Hall ahead of the team’s match on Sunday.
The Hoosiers picked up their first win in Wilkinson Hall this season with a 24-11 victory over Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on senior night.
The Hoosiers trailed 8-6 early in the match before the lighter weights rattled off four victories in a row and gained separation from the Cougars.
Before the halfway point in the match, No. 23 junior Liam Cronin ran onto the mat as his walkout song “Swag Surfin’” by F.L.Y. blared across Wilkinson Hall. Cronin’s tenacity was evident. He was in control the whole bout, raking up seven takedowns in the first period. An early 16-5 lead turned into Cronin’s seventh consecutive victory in a commanding 20-5 technical fall win.
Cronin has come into form over the last two months, upsetting two ranked wrestlers during his winning streak and moving into the national rankings.
Redshirt freshman No. 14 Graham Rooks was nearly pinned in the first period in a potential upset by SIU Edwardsville’s 149-pound redshirt sophomore Tyshawn Williams. Rooks’ early deficit increased to 6-0 in the first period.
Rooks, however, showed off why he is ranked in the top-15 nationally, making a four-point comeback in the third period. Rooks took down Williams with less than 10 seconds remaining in the match to tie the score.
Then, in the sudden victory period, Rooks earned another two points to take the win.
“I knew that he was going to get tired and break mentally, so I just had to keep the pace high and not let what happened in the first half get to me,” Rooks said. “You have to battle through it.”
Entering the match, Cronin and Rooks combined for a 12-2 record in their last 14 matches, outscoring their opponents 71-36.
Escobedo said he has seen Rooks and Cronin become leaders of the program in recent weeks.
The dominant squads of the Big Ten have made it challenging for IU to see progress in the win column throughout the season. Sunday gave IU faithfuls an opportunity to see the conference season finally pay off with a double digit win and seven match victories.
While IU doubled its win total on Sunday, the day meant more than a number to Escobedo. He has built the program on teaching life lessons.
“The big thing is to let them know that this is not it,” Escobedo said. “You have the Big Ten Tournament and then the NCAA Tournament. After that, you still have this program.”
The seniors will soon be leaving the mat to become contributors in the community. Their majors range from Jake Hinz with criminal justice to Davey Tunon with animal behavior. Spencer Irick is somewhere in between.
Irick, who is majoring in biology, plans to attend medical school and become a doctor.
These are the types of men that the program is producing. For now, they compete in a singlet, but soon, they might wear be a police badge or stethoscope. But mostly, as the seniors head into their final regular season match on Friday, it’s about one thing.
“Let them know that we love them,” Escobedo said.
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