This weekend, Indiana wrestling head coach Angel Escobedo will send the greatest number of wrestlers to the NCAA tournament in his five years at the helm of the program.
The wrestlers include No. 21 seed redshirt senior Graham Rooks, No. 18 seed junior Derek Gilcher, No. 17s eed redshirt junior DJ Washington and No. 23 seed senior Jacob Bullock. Senior Nick Willham will also make the journey to Tulsa as first alternate in the 197 lb. bracket.
The Hoosiers knocked off several ranked teams throughout the season and garnered a place in the national rankings, their first since February of 2016. Additionally, Indiana grabbed a regular season record of 8-5, its best since the 2016-2017 season. With renewed confidence, Escobedo and company will push toward new benchmarks and try to capture their first All-American since 2017 at the NCAA tournament. Wrestling awards All-American honors to those wrestlers who place top 8 in the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA wrestling brackets are structured as a double elimination tournament with consolation brackets built in. Should a wrestler lose twice before securing a top eight finish, he will be eliminated from the tournament.
Rooks is the first up for the Hoosiers by competing in the 149 lb. bracket. His opening match will be against University of Pennsylvania senior Doug Zapf who comes in at the No. 12 seed. Zapf finished third in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association conference and has two previous NCAA qualifications under his belt.
Should Rooks get past Zapf, he will likely face No. 5 seed freshman Paniro Johnson of Iowa State in an opportunity to get to the quarterfinals.
Gilcher will have No. 15 seed, University of Wyoming graduate student Jacob Wright in the first round of the tournament at 157 lbs. Gilcher, who lost to Wright on Dec.18 in the semifinals of the Reno Tournament of Champions, will have an opportunity for revenge.
If Gilcher beats Wright, he will likely have No. 2 seeded freshman from Penn State University Levi Haines. Gilcher just lost to Haines at the Big Ten tournament by 6-0 on March 17.
Washington, making his third NCAA tournament appearance, will follow Gilcher at 174 lbs. and take on no. 16-seeded United States Air Force Academy junior Sam Wolf, who is making his first appearance at the NCAA tournament.
Should Washington advance, it will set up the rubber match between him and three time returning national champion No. 1 seeded junior Carter Starocci of Penn State University in the round of 16. Washington defeated Starocci in their first meeting before Starocci took revenge on Feb. 5 in Wilkinson Hall.
Finally, Bullock will close out the first session for the Hoosiers. Making his first NCAA tournament appearance, Bullock will have the toughest draw of the bunch as he will take on junior world silver medalist and No. 10-seeded University of Missouri redshirt junior Zach Elam in the heavyweight bracket.
Bullock’s draw does not get any easier if he were to advance to the round of 16. He will likely take on No. 7-seeded redshirt sophomore Owen Trephan of North Carolina State for an opportunity to wrestle in the quarterfinals.
If anyone withdraws from the 197 lb. brackets, Willham will automatically be inserted as the No. 33 seed and will likely wrestle the current No. 33-seed Penn junior Cole Urbas. The winner of the match would take on No. 1-seed University of Pittsburgh redshirt senior Nino Bonaccorsi.
The tournament will commence on at 11 a.m. Thursday in the BOK center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and coverage will be available on ESPN and ESPNU.
Follow reporter Aidan Pollitt (@pollitt_52) for updates throughout the match and the rest of the Indiana wrestling season.