Lehigh has hosted five NCAA Division I wrestling national championships and 23 EIWA conference championships.
However, this is the first year the university will host a Final X event.
Stabler Arena was picked to hold an event for Final X, the series that will determine the United States Senior World Teams in men’s and women’s freestyle wrestling that will compete in Budapest, Hungary, Oct. 20-28.
USA Wrestling and FloSports announced on Feb. 12 that Bethlehem will be the third and final city to hold one of the events. The other two events will be held in a city to be determined on June 9 and State College, Pennsylvania, on June 19. The series will conclude at Lehigh on June 23.
Greg Strobel, an assistant athletic director for camps and external relations and former Lehigh wrestling head coach, said the Final X series will draw a large crowd of wrestlers and fans from around the country to take part in the event in the “hotbed” of wrestling.
He said the series is mixing it up this year and adjusting its style to open up the trials to more wrestlers throughout the U.S.
Senior wrestler Darian Cruz said this will further promote wrestling as a national sport and provide extensive exposure to Lehigh.
“I feel like outside of wrestling, a lot of people don’t know about Lehigh,” Cruz said. “Anytime we travel, people always ask what Lehigh is. It’s under the radar.”
Cruz said the event will be like having a professional team competing at Lehigh.
Senior wrestler Jon Mele agreed with Cruz and said having big names wrestle for spots on the world teams in the Bethlehem area will be important exposure for the school and neighboring community.
“Anytime you can pull more people into Bethlehem, it’s awesome,” Mele said.
The event at Stabler Arena will not only draw national competitors, but it will also involve Lehigh wrestlers.
Cruz will have the opportunity to participate. Former Lehigh heavyweight wrestler Zach Rey will also compete. Rey won a national title in 2011 in his junior year of eligibility at Lehigh. He went on to wrestle in the 2015 World Wrestling Championships and is looking to qualify again.
“It’s something to aspire for,” Strobel said. “If Cruz or any of our other guys could do this, they certainly would. It would be absolutely amazing to be a part of.”
Fifth year wrestler Drew Longo said it’s important for Lehigh wrestlers to attend the event and watch top-notch competitors to help motivate the Mountain Hawks to envision themselves in that role.
Strobel said for the wrestlers who are participating in the competition, it’s going to be a special experience.
The day before the event starts, the competitors will have the chance to train in the Leeman-Turner Arena in Grace Hall.
“(Lehigh) wrestling enjoys a phenomenal facility,” Strobel said. “(Competitors will) be able to see our facilities, which I think are state-of-the-art. There isn’t anything like them in the United States.”
Cruz said the event will also be beneficial for Lehigh wrestling’s recruiting process because of the positive attention it will bring to the university and the program.
Although Strobel said he was shocked Lehigh was selected to host one of the Final X events, he is excited for the school’s opportunity.
“The Lehigh Valley really produces great wrestlers,” he said, “and for (Final X competitors) to come here is a phenomenal thing.”