As a true freshman, Lehigh wrestler Darian Cruz made his name known throughout Division I wrestling.
He battled his way through the NCAA Tournament two years ago and finished in seventh place in the 125-pound weight class. Cruz was also the first freshman at Lehigh to become an All-American since 1980.
While the end result was fulfilling, his freshman campaign had some disappointment as well. He overcame adversity throughout the season when he lost nine matches to some of the best wrestlers in his weight class. Eventually, he had to figure out the type of competitor he wanted to be.
“My freshman season was very rough for me. I had a handful of really close matches with the top three ranked guys in the country but still lost,” Darian Cruz said.
He battled multiple opponents that were not only upperclassmen, but also ranked at the top of the list in the country. Darian Cruz described his freshman season as a “roller-coaster ride” that helped him develop even more faith than he already had in his coaches and other mentors. He said that specifically he thanks his brother, Randy Cruz, for always being someone that he could look up to.
“It’s honestly an honor to compete with my best friend and role model,” Darian Cruz said. “He has literally been there for everything and has inspired me through a lot of my accomplishments. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him.”
Both of the Cruz brothers have been wresting together since elementary school, but actually attended different middle schools. Their dad helped coach them up with technique and instilled a passion for the sport at an early age. Finally, the two brothers were given an opportunity to wrestle together again in high school.
“When I was moving up to high school, our dad had the idea of us attending Bethlehem Catholic, a private school in Bethlehem,” Randy Cruz said. “It was awesome because we could attend school, and wrestle together again.”
Both Cruz brothers were state champions in high school, which caught the eye of Lehigh wrestling coach Pat Santoro early on. The realization of wrestling together again in college came quickly when both of them ended up on Lehigh’s roster.
“Coach Santoro began recruiting us early, and it is great that we can compete together and have our family be right down the road to watch all of our matches,” Randy Cruz said.
After Darian Cruz finished his successful freshman campaign with a record of 28-9, he made up his mind that he had a list of goals, and things he wanted to work on during the offseason. He redshirted his sophomore year, and worked on gaining size while perfecting his craft at the same time.
“A couple of my goals and areas of improvement were putting on the size to be able to compete at a higher level,” Darian Cruz said.
He competed in open competition during his redshirt sophomore year and finished with a 22-3 overall record, which means that even though he is academically a junior, he is a sophomore wrestler because he deferred his eligibility in the 2014 season. He found fulfillment in being able to beat some of those top ranked opponents that he struggled with the year before during this time, winning three tournaments.
“This season is exciting because I was able to put on size and beat a couple top ranked guys, and it really gave me the confidence I need to excel this upcoming season,” Darian Cruz said.
Bernie Brown, ’16, is a roommate with Darian Cruz and has an inside view of the time commitment that it takes to be a successful wrestler at Lehigh.
“It’s cool being able to see how much time and hard work goes into being a Division I wrestler,” Brown said. “Whether it’s July or December, he’s always on the (wrestling) mat getting better.”
During the 2015-16 season, Darian Cruz plans on being an NCAA champion and is hopeful that his team can achieve the same goal of winning a national title. When Cruz’s Lehigh career comes to an end, he plans to continue wrestling at a high level.
“I’m going to try and train for the next Olympics in 2024,” Cruz said.
Right now all he can do is focus on his collegiate career as well as getting his degree in English from Lehigh.