March 17 won’t be any ordinary day.
It will be the day of the NCAA Championship dual where one 174-pounder will leave the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland a national champion.
It will be the the day junior wrestler Jordan Kutler fights to become Lehigh’s next national champion.
This is the match Kutler has been dreaming about his entire life.
Ranked fifth in the country, Kutler is in the running for the individual NCAA title at 174 pounds this year.
“What more could you ever ask for?” Kutler asked. “I got to watch Darian (Cruz) win (at 125 pounds) last year, and he showed everyone that, ‘Hey, we can do it. We’re good enough.’ You just have to be tough and really work at it.”
Although this is Kutler’s second consecutive year falling among the top five-ranked wrestlers in the country, this will be his first time competing in the EIWAs and the NCAAs as a Mountain Hawk.
During the 2016-17 season, Kutler wrestled at 157 pounds — about 20 pounds less than what he weighed during the summer. Despite wrestling that far down, Kutler still posted a 13-1 redshirt freshman campaign. However, a concussion a few weeks before the EIWAs caused his weight to spike. He wasn’t able to reach 157 pounds again and was rendered ineligible for the post-season.
Over the summer, coach Pat Santoro decided to wrestle Kutler in the 174-pound weight class at University Nationals, where Kutler proceeded to win the tournament.
“That win was really good and showed me that I don’t really need to cut weight to wrestle well,” Kutler said. “I trust my training. I trust my coaches, and they trust me.”
With three duals left in the regular season, Kutler is 18-2. His only losses have come against 2017 national champion Mark Hall of Penn State University.
Santoro attributes Kutler’s success this year to his solid wrestling abilities.
“He’s probably one of our best positional, technical wrestlers on the team, and for him, going up two weight classes — or one weight class — wouldn’t have mattered,” Santoro said. “All that matters is him just going out there and feeling good every day. He’s just fun to watch. He has phenomenal positioning, and he’s very explosive.”
Kutler said wrestling up two weight classes affected everything from how he feels on the mat to how he performs in the classroom — but in a positive way. He said he feels stronger, faster and more alert in every aspect of his life.
Defending national champion Cruz said Kutler’s talent is impressive at his age.
“He’s by far the most talented kid in the room,” Cruz said. “And, he’s only a junior — redshirt sophomore — which is crazy. He works so hard, and he’s so strong. He’s so precise in everything he does training-wise and diet-wise.”
Lehigh is set to face off at No. 8 Arizona State University on Feb. 9, where Kutler will take on No. 1 undefeated wrestler Zahid Valencia.
This week in practice, Kutler said he has to focus on training and being mindful of Valencia’s strategy, knowing the top seed will do whatever he can to score points.
“I just have to keep really good position — focus on what I do best — and hopefully that will be enough,” Kutler said.
He said his mindset won’t change going into this match, and at this point he sees everything as practice for March.
Santoro said Kutler has the skills to accomplish his overall goal.
“I think just being relaxed and having fun doing it, he can accomplish any goal he wants,” Santoro said. “I think he can be a national champion.”
Following the matchup against Arizona State, the team has two matches left in its regular season and a little over a month before the NCAA Championships begin March 15.
As March 17 approaches, the ultimate goal is right within Kutler’s grasp.
“If it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year,” Kutler said. “And if it doesn’t happen next year, there’s always my senior year. I’m just going to keep getting better until I achieve it.”