Top talent returns to Lehigh wrestling this season with four All-Americans — seniors Nathaniel Brown, Mason Beckman and Mitch Minotti, and junior Darian Cruz, who deferred eligibility last year — anchoring the team.
Last year, the team placed second in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Championships overall, and senior Randy Cruz took first place in the 141-pound weight class. Lehigh also had three second-place finishers: Santiago Martinez, ’15, Beckman and Brown. In the NCAA Championships the team took 13th place and its best finisher was Brown at second place.
This season begins with the Wrestle-offs, which will take place at Grace Hall on Oct. 29. The first official match will then be a road test against league opponent Bucknell University on Nov. 6 in Lewisburg. To prepare for the season, the team has been hard at work throughout the summer and fall.
“We had a pretty tough preseason,” freshman Paul Dunn said. “Coaches put us through a lot of workouts. Most of it was getting us mentally tough for those long matches.”
A new group of freshman wrestlers like Dunn are hoping to break into the team and make an impact from the start. For Dunn, the recruiting process came down to a tough decision between Lehigh and the University of Pittsburgh.
“It was tough for me because I had Pitt right in my backyard,” Dunn said. “I ended up picking Lehigh and couldn’t be happier that I picked here. We’ve got a great team.”
Fellow freshman Kent Lane’s decision was easier, as he had a relationship with a few of the coaches. What sold Lane on Lehigh was its combination of a high quality wrestling program and excellent academics. The college transition has required adjustments, though, and Dunn pointed out the huge step up in talent from high school to college.
“Coming into college you think you have some strengths in some areas, and then you get in a room with a bunch of college guys, and you’re really not sure where you’re strong at,” Dunn said.
Dunn does think he is good on his back, but both he and Lane said there was room to improve all aspects of their game.
Returning two-time All-American Minotti is also looking to make adjustments and improve this year. Minotti said last year ended on a bitter note with a few guys getting very close to All-American, but that it was a young team. This year he thinks the team is older and has a good group of returning guys as well as some younger ones who can step up. The mix of returning and incoming players has resulted in good team chemistry as well, according to Minotti.
“I think we really have a close knit team,” Minotti said. “We really have made leaps and bounds with everyone buying into the team vision.”
One way this team is looking to improve is with even more physicality and gritty toughness. Minotti said this wasn’t something the team has lacked in the past, but just an aspect it wanted to really emphasize. Personally, Minotti said that he is trying to focus on staying healthy this season and that his goals are to win the league championship and become NCAA champion, which has been his goal his entire collegiate career.
Lane, Dunn and Minotti all didn’t hesitate in saying that the goal is for the team to win the national championship.
“We’re looking to have a really strong team this year, probably on paper one of the best we’ve had in a number of years,” Minotti said. “We’re really excited to be able to show off and compete at the highest level and with the best teams in the country.”