The Lehigh wrestling team has started its official practice schedule leading into the 2017-18 season after a successful campaign last year, going 10-4 in the regular season and finishing 12th in the NCAA Championships.
This season, the Mountain Hawks have a slate of upcoming duals that could give them trouble but also provide tests to benefit them long term. Lehigh’s toughest matches include battles against the University of Michigan and the defending national champion Penn State. The Penn State matchup will be held at the PPL Center in Allentown on Dec. 3, an arena that seats around 10,000 people and is expected to sell out, creating one of the biggest home matches in recent Lehigh history.
“Having our in-state rival come to the PPL Center will mimic and prepare our guys for the NCAA Championships,” associate head coach John Hughes wrote in an email. “This is a great event to showcase wrestling in the Lehigh Valley.”
Sophomore Jordan Wood is excited for the matchup against the Nittany Lions but has Nov. 19 marked down on his calendar. That’s when the Mountain Hawks will host Michigan, who finished last season ranked No. 15 in the country just behind Lehigh. Wood said the matchup will ultimately set the tone for the season.
“I am looking forward to Michigan,” Wood said. “They’re an up-and-coming team that is going to be a team trophy contender and we match up great against them. It is going to be a fun battle to watch and be a part of. I’ll run into the No. 2 guy in the nation there.”
Later in the season on Jan. 19, the team will face league rival Cornell University, who the Mountain Hawks lost to by one point last season after jumping out to an early 17-3 lead. Cornell finished last season as the EIWA champion, and there’s no love lost between the two teams.
“They have been our rivals forever,” senior Scott Parker said. “They’re kind of dirty. We don’t really like them too much to be honest, and they have won EIWAs for the past however many years, and we would like to really get that done, and I think this is our year to do it. I think we are on the come-up. We have a lot of young guys who are going to make some noise and some returners who are going to do well.”
With duals against Arizona State University and the University of Oklahoma toward the end of the season, the team should be well-prepared going into the EIWA Tournament and NCAA Championships at the end of the season.
Parker said this year’s schedule is one of the toughest he’s seen for Lehigh in recent years.
The team has four afternoon practices, two morning drills, three lifts and another one or two conditioning workouts throughout the week.
Wood said the morning drills are slower-paced, focusing on working technique and keeping players moving around. Wood said afternoon practices are longer and more intense.
“We call (afternoon practices) ‘combat,’ and it is just live wrestling,” He said. “We get after it, and it is pretty brutal, but it is always rewarding when you’re done.”
The team’s work at practice will be displayed for the first time Thursday during wrestle-offs, where the team will participate in inter-squad matchups. The duals will take place at Leeman-Turner Arena in Grace Hall at 7 p.m.
After a successful season last year, Hughes has the same expectations as previous seasons.
“Our expectations remain the same every year and that is to produce National Champions and All Americans,” Hughes wrote. “We want our kids to wrestle with passion, excitement and score as many points as possible.”
Lehigh starts its dual season with league play Nov. 10 at Bucknell University.