The Big Ten Championship tournament wrapped up on Sunday evening after crowning 10 champions. The Hoosiers improved on last year’s 14th place finish, racking up 30 team points and garnered a 12th place finish overtaking Michigan State and Maryland, falling just short of Rutgers who scored 32 team points.
The Hoosiers clinched four NCAA qualifiers and one first alternate. The qualifiers included redshirt-senior Graham Rooks at 149 lbs., junior Derek Gilcher at 157 lbs., DJ Washington at 174 lbs., Jacob Bullock at heavyweight and senior Nick Willham as first alternate at 197 lbs.
In the 149 lb. bracket, Rooks delivered one of the biggest upsets of the tournament. Rooks wrestled in the quarterfinal against the returning Big Ten champion, Wisconsin’s redshirt senior Austin Gomez. Rooks' crisp attacks and his offense prowess proved to be just enough to defeat Gomez 6-5.
Rooks’ win over Gomez propelled him to a spot in the semifinals, a 5th place finish and most valuable of all, an automatic qualification for the NCAA tournament. This is Rooks’ highest finish in the Big Ten tournament, his third time qualifying for the big dance and coach Escobedo’s first semifinalist.
Gilcher, a Michigan native, had the crowd at his back as he took on Wisconsin graduate student Garrett Model in the 157 lbs. consolation bracket. Gilcher and Model were in a shootout for an opportunity to gain an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Model, seeded 9th, had beaten Gilcher earlier this season at the Ken Kraft Midlands Championships.
Tied with short time left in regulation, Gilcher pancaked Model to his back and picked up an emphatic fall with just 11 seconds on the clock. Thirty minutes away from his high school gym, Gilcher qualified for the NCAA championships for the first time in his career.
Washington earned an at-large bid to the NCAA’s after falling one match short of an automatic placement. Washington still had a stellar performance standing 8th on the podium and became a 3-time national qualifier.
Washington’s at-large bid was earned by his merits throughout the season rather than his performance at the tournament. He will push for a spot on the podium in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the NCAA tournament.
Like Washington, Willham fell one match short of an automatic qualification but has been chosen as the first alternate at 197 lbs. Willham will be allowed to weigh in and will take part if a spot in the bracket opens. This would be Willham’s first time competing at the NCAA championships if he gets the chance to participate. Willham has a 17-10 record on the year and snagged a 10th place finish at the Big Ten Championships.
After clawing his way through the consolation brackets, Bullock secured an automatic qualification at heavyweight, rounding out the NCAA qualifiers. This was Bullock's first time qualifying for the NCAAs in his career.
In his first match of the tournament, Bullock took revenge against Maryland graduate student Jaron Smith, whom he had previously lost to on Jan. 9.
Bullock dominated Smith with a 4-1 victory. Despite this strong start, Bullock faced two consecutive losses, which led him to the consolation bracket. Bullock later defeated Minnesota’s redshirt senior Garrett Joles by a narrow 4-3 margin punching his ticket to Tulsa and taking 9th place in the process.
After the two days of upsets and mayhem, the dust had settled and left the Indiana wrestling program with four NCAA qualifiers and one first alternate, the most in coach Angel Escobedo’s tenure as head coach.
As mentioned, these Hoosiers will conclude their season in just two weeks, from March 16 to 18, as they compete in the NCAA Wrestling Championships.