IU wrestling took part in the Big Ten Wrestling Championships this weekend in University Park, Pennsylvania. As a team, the Hoosiers finished 13th out of 14 teams, but two IU wrestlers — Graham Rooks and DJ Washington — made it far enough in the tournament to secure spots in the NCAA Wrestling Championships on March 18-20.
At-large bids for the NCAA Championships will be announced Wednesday, and sophomore Hoosiers Nick South and Cayden Rooks are in the running for those spots after finishing tenth in their respective weight classes. IU head coach Angel Escobedo said before the tournament his goal was to double the number of NCAA qualifiers the team had from two last year.
“That was the best our team has wrestled all year,” Escobedo said. “I just thought it was finally a good group effort from the team. They kind of all were together and wrestling hard together.”
Graham Rooks, a 149-pound redshirt sophomore, earned a second trip to the NCAAs after qualifying last year, and Washington, a 174-pound sophomore, qualified for the tournament in his first season wrestling in duals for IU. Both wrestlers finished sixth in their respective weight classes.
Rooks was the No. 10 seed in the tournament and lost his first match to No. 7 seed and runner-up Ridge Lovett from Nebraska, but later in the tournament a win over No. 4 seed redshirt junior Yahya Thomas put him in the consolation-bracket semifinals and the NCAA Championships.
Rooks’ win was a bit of payback from him against Thomas, who beat him during IU’s 18-16 dual win over Northwestern earlier this season.
“Last year Graham was seeded high and had a bad Big Ten Tournament,” Escobedo said. “I think he was motivated this year to make a run, and we saw the old Graham Rooks back. I think he’s peaking at the right time as we head into nationals.”
Washington was IU’s highest seeded wrestler in the tournament at No. 5 and dominated his first-round matchup with Purdue’s redshirt freshman Emil Soehnlen, who was the No. 12 seed. With just over a minute left in the first period, Washington secured double underhooks on Soehnlen, flipped him over his hip and secured the pin.
Washington would finish the tournament 2-3 after winning against No. 10 redshirt senior Drew Hughes from Michigan State but losing matches against Logan Massa, Mikey Labriola and Kaleb Romero, who were all ranked top 6 in the country in the latest NCAA Coaches Poll.
“You kind of get lost and you expect a lot out of your athletes, and I expect a lot out of DJ,” Escobedo said. “But when I saw him on the podium, that’s the toughest weight class in the Big Ten and there’s all upperclassmen except the runner-up and DJ — it just shows how much he has been perfecting his craft for this to be able to work on upperclassmen. It’s really exciting.”
Redshirt junior Kyle Luigs and Cayden Rooks both pulled off upsets in the first round of the tournament. The No. 12 seed Luigs picked up a 6-0 victory over Michigan’s No. 5 seed redshirt junior Jack Medley. From there Luigs went winless, falling 19-10 to Maryland freshman Jackson Cockrell in the first round of the ninth-place tournament.
Rooks, on the other hand, made it to the ninth-place tournament final after he took down Minnesota No. 6 seed Marcos Polanco in the semifinal, whom he also upset in the first round.
“We talked as a group that just like we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and really trying to score that first takedown,” Escobedo said. “We said this tournament that was going to be huge, and both guys did that.”
Junior Rudy Streck, who was the No. 13 seed heavyweight, was able to pick up a win in his first consolation match against No. 12 seed freshman Dorian Keys from Purdue. Streck was able to pin Keys in the second round of their match.
No. 13 seed sophomore Luke Baughman also made it to the semifinal round of the ninth-place tournament in the 157-pound weight class after he beat Illinois’s No. 12 seed redshirt junior Johnny Mologousis, who beat him by technical fall earlier in the tournament.
“I talked to some of the guys on the back side in the losers bracket, just talking about, you know, once you get in that bracket it’s more about heart than anything,” Escobedo said. “There’s a lot of factors where guys just want to quit, so I just told him ‘Luke, wrestle as hard as you can, and things can turn around.’”
The tournament marked the end of the season for most Hoosiers on the roster, but they will send at least two wrestlers to the NCAA Championships with hopes of two more at-large bids.