Twenty-seven years after Pete Yozzo, ’87, graduated from Lehigh, his daughter Nicole began her four-year journey as a Mountain Hawk.
During his undergraduate years as a Lehigh wrestler, Pete Yozzo was a four-time EIWA finalist, a three-time EIWA champion and a three-time All-American. He was the first Lehigh wrestler to win 100 career bouts.
Pete Yozzo didn’t know at the time, but both his connection to Lehigh and the legacy he left behind would last far beyond graduation, starting with who he beat to become a national champion in 1987.
Pete Yozzo’s 100th career victory came against Lehigh wrestling coach Pat Santoro — who wrestled for the University of Pittsburgh — for the national title at 142 pounds his senior year. Santoro would begin his role as head wrestling coach at Lehigh six years before Pete Yozzo’s daughter committed to play as a Mountain Hawk.
Nicole Yozzo and her twin brother were first introduced to Lehigh when they were young, despite growing up across the country in California.
“(Lehigh director of club sports) Barb Turanchik sent us a big box of Lehigh gear when the kids were young, so they wore Lehigh gear all the time,” Pete Yozzo said. “We promptly tie-dyed it and gave it a California twist.”
Pete Yozzo said the first time his daughter visited Lehigh was around the time she was in seventh grade.
Though Nicole Yozzo is now a senior at Lehigh, she said she never felt pressured to attend the school. The only thing her dad encouraged her and her brother to do was play a sport. Pete Yozzo said he is a firm believer that the lessons learned through playing sports can’t be learned any other way.
While Nicole Yozzo wasn’t interested in playing sports when she was younger, she eventually chose to pursue softball after being told she’d be able to play duck, duck, goose at practice.
The sport grew on her over time, and she took it a step further with her choice to play competitively in middle school.
Early in Nicole Yozzo’s softball career, coaches told her parents that her impressive speed gave her an advantage as an athlete. Pete Yozzo said his daughter’s speed wasn’t passed down from him, contrary to popular belief.
“Lehigh folks love to tell me she is just like her dad, which is funny but incorrect,” Pete Yozzo said. “She is a lot like her mom.”
At a showcase tournament in Huntington Beach, California, Nicole Yozzo’s agility caught the eye of Lehigh softball coach Fran Troyan. Nicole Yozzo said she and her teammates received lists of college coaches who were interested in recruiting them.
One day, Lehigh was on her list.
“Even when Lehigh started recruiting me, my dad was never pushy,” Nicole Yozzo said. “My mom actually thought Lehigh would be a great fit for me. She’s from California, but she loves Lehigh, so she was pushier than my dad was.”
Nicole Yozzo was alone in a mall parking lot when it dawned on her that Lehigh was where she wanted to play softball. She then made the call to Troyan to commit.
“I just decided to call Fran (Troyan) and say, ‘Coach, I want to come to Lehigh,'” Nicole Yozzo said. “And then I called my dad — who was at a wrestling tournament with (my brother) — and said, ‘I committed to Lehigh,’ and he said, ‘Congrats.'”
The simplicity of the story comes from the humble nature of the Yozzo family and the unconditional support Nicole Yozzo received throughout her college search.
After his daughter committed to Lehigh, Pete Yozzo spoke from his own experience and told her that competing at the collegiate level was worth it.
Nicole Yozzo has followed in her father’s footsteps as a Mountain Hawk to create a successful Lehigh career. The outfielder was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year her freshman year and won the John S. Steckbeck award as Lehigh’s outstanding first-year female athlete. Last year, she was ranked 12th in batting average, batting .322, and she’s 15th in the nation for stolen bases with .89 per game this season.
Troyan, however, doesn’t credit Nicole Yozzo’s achievements to her athleticism.
“Nicole found early success at Lehigh because she is very talented, is a great learner and has incredible composure,” Troyan wrote in an email.
Nicole Yozzo said her father has played a large role in her success by providing perspective on the mental challenges of being a college athlete from his firsthand experiences.
“He’s been really helpful in the sports psychology of the pressure,” Nicole Yozzo said. “He’s really good about helping me understand the crazy places that my head goes. The only similarity between our sports experiences is that the psychology has been largely the same.”
Nicole Yozzo said one of her favorite parts about her experience as a Mountain Hawk has been learning that some of the same alumni who watch her play also watched her dad wrestle.
Pete Yozzo said he’s benefitted from his daughter’s experience as well.
“I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends and rediscovered what an amazing family Lehigh really is,” Pete Yozzo said. “Just seeing her develop as a person and to see the impact college sports has had on her development has been fun for my wife, Laura, and me to see.”
While Pete Yozzo created a name for the Yozzo family at Lehigh, Nicole Yozzo isn’t quite finished carrying on the family’s legacy.
Her goal for the remainder of her last season as a Mountain Hawk is to win a second straight Patriot League Championship title, which would be the team’s third in her four years at Lehigh.
“For this year, I want to play without the fear of being a senior,” Nicole Yozzo said. “I want to be able to play tough. You can’t always play well, but you can always play tough. And I want to know that I put all the effort that I possibly could in so I can leave senior year — no matter the results — with a happy heart.”