IU wrestling’s preseason workouts look different compared to a usual year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted its season in March. The team is still practicing every day, but they’ve been split into two groups to limit close contact. Each group is lifting weights every other day, compared to every day during a normal preseason.
Head coach Angel Escobedo said, while these circumstances can be motivating for the team, it’s hard to build chemistry when the team is in two groups.
“Sometimes those groups don’t even intermingle, so you’re just trying to preach the same message from group to group,” Escobedo said. “I would say that’s the hardest challenge we’re going through right now.”
Escobedo thinks freshmen, like Santos Cantu from Salem, Oregon, are feeling isolated and are especially affected. He said the goal is to keep the freshmen motivated and connected as much as possible.
“It’s just a way different experience from what you normally would have,” Escobedo said. “He would be living in the dorm with thousands of other kids. All he sees is his teammates, the cafeteria isn’t open where he could meet other student athletes, and that’s important. It’s a unique time for sure.”
Despite the difficulties facing this young Hoosier squad, Escobedo said they came into workouts hungry and ready to compete. He said the team has taken advantage of the situation by focusing on individual work, and the months of down time have them itching to compete.
When the team does take to the mat again, they’ll face a grueling BigTen-only schedule. IU will look to climb up the ladder of a conference that had 10 teams ranked in the top 25 of the NWCA Coaches Poll at the end of last season.
“We’ve been down at the bottom, we have to get tired of that, we have to move in the right direction,” Escobedo said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge we can take on and overcome. I always tell the guys ‘Why not us? Why can’t we be the next premier program?’”
Escobedo is excited by this team’s youth heading into the season. He said workouts have been more intense compared to his previous years with IU. Having younger, healthier guys on the team has allowed them to focus less on preventing injuries and more on improving their skills.
“They’re ready to go,” Escobedo said. “I can feel their energy and we all kind of feed off it, even the coaching staff.”
IU’s schedule hasn’t been released yet, but the team will look to improve on its 2-10 regular season finish last year once they get started in 2021.
Escobedo said he is excited to get back into wrestling mode and to see what this team can do, and he’s especially excited to compete in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in the postseason because they were canceled last year due to the pandemic.
“I miss it, even as a coach I miss that atmosphere,” Escobedo said. “There’s nothing like the NCAA tournament. Our guys know that so we’re just crossing our fingers that it can happen this year.”