Lehigh senior Laike Gardner faces off against Virginia Tech sophomore Solomon Chishko on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Grace Hall. Lehigh will face Army on Feb. 10, 2017, at 7 pm in the Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Senior send-off: Lehigh wrestling to battle Army in season finale


Coming off three consecutive losses, the No. 10 Lehigh wrestling team (8-4, 6-1 EIWA) will welcome Army West Point for senior night on Grace Hall Friday.

The Mountain Hawks began the season with four straight wins at Grace Hall over fellow EIWA league opponents Bucknell University, Princeton University, Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

With Army coming off a win at the All-Academy Championships, and several nationally ranked wrestlers competing on either side, it will be a competitive match as the Mountain Hawks prepare for the EIWA Championships and National Championships in March.

“The 141 will be a tight match to watch,” wrestling coach Pat Santoro said. “They have split matches in the past, but we have been working hard and have the same outlook for every match. We want to go out and have a good performance.”

Senior Randy Cruz will be wrestling for Lehigh in the 141-pound weight class.

“We are trying to watch our weights, eat right, get enough sleep and just get mentally prepared for the last match of the season,” Cruz said. “Army is a team that will battle for seven minutes, and they are gonna fight hard. We just have to show them whose house it is and take it to them.”

Throughout his Lehigh career, Cruz has captured two EIWA titles, and he reached All-American status after placing eighth at last year’s NCAA Championship.

“I don’t think it has hit me yet, but it’s pretty crazy that this will be my last time where I suit up and wrestle in Grace Hall,” Cruz said. “Even before high school I would come here to watch the matches, and I’ve enjoyed the journey. It’s definitely bittersweet.”

As for the future of the program, Cruz said the underclassmen are ready and excited to jump in the lineup and battle for seven minutes. This depth has been crucial for the team so far this season, with many athletes out due to injuries.

Santoro said that four of the 10 starters were out in last week’s match, and two of them will be back for the Army dual. 

“We are hoping to get the next two back in the next few weeks,” Santoro said. “They have time to get healthy now because the goal for our program is the postseason. Right now, these matches are all practice for the postseason and looking forward to March.”

With Kyle Gentile’s injury this season, sophomore Andrew Price has been in the starting lineup at 184 lbs. after sitting out his redshirt season last year.

“We are trusting in what makes us one of the top teams in the country,” Price said. “Although we are coming off some losses, we wrestled well earlier this season and are going to keep working on it.”

Although the match against Army will be the last regular season match for the senior wrestlers, the focus for them remains on the postseason.

“I’m glad that I ran into my difficulties early in the season because they will help prepare me for my ultimate goal, which is placing at nationals,” Cruz said. “Every match is just a landmark and a test. It’s all about March and getting matches.”

Santoro said the team’s talent this year will make it possible for the wrestlers to perform well. He said the team is looking to win the EIWA Championships and then get as many of the members onto the podium at the NCAA Championship as possible.

Lehigh will be graduating nine wrestlers in May including Cruz, Mitch Minotti, Laike Gardner and Doug Vollaro, all of whom have qualified for the NCAA Championship during their Lehigh careers.

The EIWA Championship is Friday, March 3 at 11 a.m. in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and the NCAA Championship will take place March 16 in St. Louis.

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