IU wrestling’s young roster brought a lot of excitement heading into its shortened season, but that excitement didn’t translate into success in its season opener Sunday against Illinois.
The Hoosiers fell 39-3 at Wilkinson Hall against the Fighting Illini, with sophomore DJ Washington being the lone winner for IU in the 174-pound weight class.
“Just to get that first win and that first match off my back feels good,” Washington said. “I know for the team it didn’t go very well, but I know we have a really bright future here at Indiana.”
Washington got off to a quick start in the match, going up 4-1 in the first period, and then picked up two more points on a reversal in the second period to go up 6-1. His opponent, sophomore Trey Sizemore, was able to pick up two points from escapes late in the second and third periods, but Washington was able to hang on for a 6-3 win.
Washington and Sizemore were on the ground grappling and trying to get position on each other when, with 24 seconds left in the match, Washington appeared to be injured. After a short stoppage, Washington was able to finish the match, slamming Sizemore to the mat to secure the win. Washington said he felt a pop with Sizemore’s knee on his ankle, but once he got up it felt fine.
“He really cares about this team, and he wanted to make sure that he came out with a statement,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said.
Despite Washington’s win, Escobedo said Washington may have let his emotions get the best of him during his strong start, which wore him down toward the end of the match.
Escobedo said the match was not a great representation of the team and what they’ve been working on. He said it’s frustrating, and that the team has to put the loss behind it and get ready for Michigan.
“It doesn’t get easier — it gets harder in the Big Ten,” Escobedo said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do to prove we belong here.”
IU’s top-ranked wrestler No. 8 Brock Hudkins wasn’t able to pick up a win in his first match of the season, returning after a season-ending knee injury last year and sporting a large brace on his left leg. Hudkins fell 3-1 to redshirt sophomore Justin Cardani, who is ranked No. 22 in the 125-pound weight class.
Hudkins and Cardani entered the third and final period tied 1-1, but Cardani was able to get two points in the last seconds against Hudkins. Escobedo said he felt like Hudkins played into his opponent’s game too much during the match.
“The guy kept backing up and Brock was just being slow and methodical with him,” Escobedo said. “He was kind of waiting around too much.”
Escobedo said while they need to make technical improvements, the underclassmen who wrestled brought a lot of energy. There may be some shifts in the lineup throughout the season, Escobedo said, as he looks for the guys who give the best attitude and effort.
“It’s kind of hard to find positives through this, but I would say where we are now, this would be our rock bottom,” Escobedo said. “We could only go up. We have a lot of film to improve on and that’s what we need to do.”
With the loss, IU falls to 0-1 to start its Big-Ten-only season and will look to take down the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines on the road next Sunday.