IU wrestling will be back on the mat for the first time in two weeks Saturday in Evanston, Illinois, against No. 3 Penn State and Northwestern. The Hoosiers will take on the Nittany Lions at noon before hosting the Wildcats at 2 p.m.
After losses to now-No. 9 Illinois and now-No. 2 Michigan, IU is looking to break into the win column and take down a Big Ten foe for the first time this season and improve on its 0-2 start.
Up first for IU is Penn State, which will be competing for the first time this season after coronavirus-related postponements against Rutgers and Michigan State earlier this season.
“You can do practice matches and you can do practice, but there’s nothing like competing out there, and our guys felt it, and they understand what it’s like competing for the first time in over a year,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said. “We’ve been on the other side of it where we were really nervous our first competition and Illinois kind of capitalized on that, so now it’s our turn to learn from that.”
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Penn State is 20-0-1 against IU all-time and holds a seven-match win streak. Nine Nittany Lion wrestlers come into the match ranked, including five in the top five of their weight classes. Penn State is coached by Cael Sanderson, one of the most dominant collegiate wrestlers of all time.
In four years at Iowa State University, Sanderson never lost, finishing his career with a 159-0 record and four individual NCAA Championships. Since he took over as head coach at Penn State in 2009, Sanderson has coached 58 All-Americans, 23 National Champions and five Hodge Trophy winners.
“He’s always embraced me pretty well with me being a new coach. I’ve actually picked his brain from time to time,” Escobedo said. “He’s a great guy, but at the end of the day we’re still competing against him, and I want to beat him.”
After its match with Penn State, IU will take on Northwestern. The Wildcats come into the match 1-2 on the season after splitting their dual matches in a tri-meet on Jan. 23 where they lost to Nebraska but took down Maryland in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The Hoosiers lost a close match to the Wildcats 21-15 last season, which evened the all-time series 18-18.
“There’s a lot of tossup matches that could go back and forth, so we’re going to have to end up on the better half of those,” Escobedo said.
IU will see a few lineup changes from the first two matches this season. Senior Brock Hudkins is out with an injury in the 125-pound weight class, which opens the door for freshman Jacob Moran, who is 2-0 in exhibition matches this season.
“He beat a cadet world champ from Michigan — the guy was a No. 1 recruit coming out of high school, so that was a big win for Jacob,” Escobedo said. “I want to see how he’s going to perform in the starting lineup. He’s excited, and I think we can expect big things out of him.”
Redshirt sophomore Graham Rooks will also make his season debut for the Hoosiers at the 149-pound weight class, returning from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for their first two matches. Rooks was a NCAA qualifier last season and was ranked as high as No. 14 in the country, finishing with a 15-10 record and 8-4 record in dual meets.
“It’s time for Graham to get back on track, get back into the swing of things and being the leader of this team,” Escobedo said.