The IU wrestling team will send two Hoosiers to the NCAA Championships after gaining bids in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend.
125-pound junior Liam Cronin took fifth place, and 149-pound redshirt freshman Graham Rooks finished 10th.
Cronin lost in the opening round of the tournament 17-12 to Nebraska’s Alex Thomsen, which snapped Cronin’s eight-match win streak that dated back to January. Cronin then worked his way through the consolation bracket, winning his next two bouts by a combined score of 21-10.
Cronin fell 3-2 to Northwestern’s Michael DeAugstino in the consolation semifinals, sending him to the fifth place match. He was set to face off against Thomsen again, making it two consecutive days the wrestlers faced off against each other. Cronin bested Thomsen the second time around, pinning him and securing fifth place.
“I think that he started off too nervous and timid,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said. “Then, Liam started coming back. I knew from then on that he was locked in. If he wrestled the way he did the last two matches, there’s no reason why he can’t be an All-American.”
Cronin’s three wins in the event give him a total of 17 wins heading into the NCAA Championships on March 19-21. The IU junior started the season 6-8 and went on to win 11 of his next 16 bouts. With the season-ending knee injury to junior Brock Hudins, Cronin stepped up in the lineup.
Graham Rooks opened the weekend with a 3-2 victory over Michigan State’s Alex Hrisopoulos but then suffered two losses in a row. Rooks bounced back, defeating Illinois’ Mousa Jodeh 5-2 and sending him into the 9th place match.
Rooks was defeated in his final match, and ended the weekend with a 2-3 record. It wasn’t Rooks’ best showing, but it was good enough to extend his season.
There 's a different amount of automatic bids allotted to each weight class depending on the strength of the group. Ten spots were given to the 149-pound weight class and Rooks seized the final opening.
“I think that there are small adjustments that he needs to make,” Escobedo said. “For him getting it's about getting confident and knowing that he can beat anyone in the country.”
Cronin and Rooks were IU’s most consistent wrestlers throughout the season. After the win against Southern Illinois Edwardsville University on Feb. 16, the duo united to win 14 of their last 16 matches and outscored opponents 100-48.
As a team, the Hoosiers went a combined 8-23, with five of the 10 wrestlers winless. IU ended 13th out of 14 teams in the conference meeting, with only Maryland finishing below. The Terrapins were the only Big Ten team the Hoosiers defeated throughout the season.
Freshman Cayden Rooks, who entered the competition with 21 wins, was one of the five IU wrestlers to be held winless. Rooks came up short to Sammy Alvarez from Rutgers 3-1 in a sudden victory extra period. Escobedo said Rooks was fighting through sickness before the match.
Graham Rooks and Cronin are the only two wrestlers to extend their season past the Big Ten Championships and will have more than a week to prepare for nationals.
“We need to focus on what was working and continue to have confidence in that,” Escobedo said. “When you get to nationals it's about what you can do best, and getting to that as much as you can.”