Coming off its first win of the season against Northwestern, IU wrestling is returning home Saturday for its first duals in Wilkinson Hall since its opener against Illinois Jan. 10. IU will take on No. 23 Michigan State at noon and No. 7 Nebraska at 2 p.m.
“We’re rolling in the right direction and they can feel it, I can feel the energy,” IU head coach Angel Escobedo said in a press conference Thursday. “We’re excited for this weekend.”
No. 24 Rutgers was also scheduled to compete in the meet, but it withdrew Wednesday due to positive COVID-19 tests within the program. Rutgers also canceled its women’s basketball game with IU that was set for Thursday night.
In its last tri-meet with then-No. 3 Penn State and then-No. 24 Northwestern, IU had its best showings of the season. The team was able to score its most team points against Penn State in 12 years and get its first win of the season against Northwestern.
DJ Washington shined for the Hoosiers in the 174-pound weight class. He took down then-No. 5 redshirt freshman Carter Starocci from Penn State and pinned redshirt freshman Troy Fisher from Northwestern with 18 seconds left in the match. Washington was named Big Ten Wrestler of the Week after his performance.
“I think my staff and I, we always saw how high his ceiling could be,” Escobedo said. “We knew it was only a matter of time before the whole nation would know who DJ Washington was.”
First up for the Hoosiers on Saturday will be the Spartans from Michigan State, who have a 1-2 record on the season. After dominating Maryland in its season opener 42-0, Michigan State lost big to No.13 Minnesota and No. 11 Ohio State in its following meets.
Track Wrestling has eight individual Spartans ranked, including 197-pounder redshirt junior Cameron Caffey at No. 5. Caffey, who is 3-0 on the season, reached the finals in the Big Ten Championships last season, where he lost to No. 1 seed Aaron Brooks from Penn State in a close 3-2 match.
Michigan State’s head coach Roger Chandler is a former IU wrestler, winning a Big Ten Championship and finishing runner-up in the NCAA Championships with the Hoosiers in 1997.
Chandler’s Michigan State teams are 2-1 against IU since he became head coach in 2015, including a close 16-15 win in the last matchup between the two teams.
“Every time we’re at tournaments, you know I make sure we talk even though we’re on the opposite sides,” Escobedo said. “At the end of the day once a Hoosier always a Hoosier. He’s a great guy, he’s a great supporter of the program and I wish him nothing but the best of luck.”
IU’s second matchup of the day will be against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are 4-1 this season. Nebraska has taken down three ranked teams this season, with its only loss coming against No. 1 Iowa.
“I think for them it’s the same thing we did with Penn State — don’t wrestle the number, wrestle the guy,” Escobedo said. “Everybody is human, right? We’re starting off 0-0 no matter what their rankings are, so we just have to go out there and compete, and I think our guys are excited about it.”
Former IU wrestler Liam Cronin is 3-1 on the season for Nebraska and ranked No. 9 in the country by InterMat. The 125-pound senior placed fifth at the Big Ten Championships and was an NCAA qualifier with IU last season.
IU will look to break a 12-match losing streak against Nebraska on Saturday that dates back to 1989. Nebraska won the last matchup between the two teams 35-6 on Feb. 9, 2020, in Bloomington.