Junior Laike Gardner wrestles against American University junior Cole Moseley on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at Grace Hall. Lehigh's wrestling team will compete in the EIWA Championships on March 5-6, 2016. (Toni Isreal/B&W Staff)

Lehigh wrestling season culminates with EIWA Championships

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The Lehigh wrestling team will head to Princeton, New Jersey, March 5 for the start of the EIWA Championships. The Mountain Hawks enter the conference tournament ranked ninth in the nation with several individuals vying for All-American honors.

One of the three losses for Lehigh (13-3, 7-0 EIWA) this season came to the No. 1 ranked team in the country: Penn State University. The other losses were to University of Nebraska and Rutgers University.

The EIWA has 16 member schools, such as Bucknell University, Navy, Brown University, Drexel University and Princeton University, and is the largest conference in all of Division I wrestling.

“Our biggest rival in the EIWA is Cornell (University),” senior Max Wessell said. “Any matches against Cornell this weekend will end up having implications on the team title race, but it will be tough competition with a lot of good wrestlers at every weight class.”

Some of the highly anticipated potential matchups include: sophomore Darian Cruz versus Bucknell’s Paul Petrov at 125; senior Mason Beckman versus Cornell’s Nahshon Garrett at 133; junior Randy Cruz versus Harvard University’s Todd Preston at 141; freshman Ryan Preisch versus Cornell’s Duke Pickett at 165; senior Nathaniel Brown versus Cornell’s Gabe Dean at 184; and Wessell versus Bucknell’s Joe Stolfi at heavyweight.

The Brown versus Dean matchup would feature the current No. 1 (Dean) and No. 3 (Brown) wrestlers in the nation and would also be a rematch of last year’s NCAA national championship final, which Dean won.

“I really look forward to competing against some of the best guys in the country, having the opportunity to represent Lehigh wrestling, and just the chance to go out and have fun doing what I love to do alongside a group of teammates that I view as family,” senior Mason Beckman said.

For Wessell, the EIWA Championships represent an opportunity to see his hard work pay off on the mat, but he said he is more excited for the opportunity to see his team accomplish its goals.

“I would love to cap off what has been a great year for our seniors with an EIWA title,” Wessell said. “We have been working towards the conference and national tournament all year, and I believe we have put ourselves in a great spot to succeed.”

The EIWA Championships also represent a chance to earn a spot in the NCAA National Championships, the culmination of the sport.

“This weekend is when we punch our tickets to the national tournament,” Beckman said. “It is important to each one of us that we peak and wrestle our best this weekend to set us up to make a run at the national tournament in a couple of weeks.”

This year the national tournament will be in New York City at Madison Square Garden on March 17-19. Lehigh will have a chance to send several athletes to the competition.

But the Mountain Hawks are not looking too far ahead and are excited for the chance to wrestle the nation’s best at the EIWA Championships.

“I’m blessed and thankful to have another opportunity to represent a program like Lehigh wrestling in another postseason,” Beckman said. “I can’t wait to take the mat along with my teammates and let it fly this weekend.”

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