The Lehigh wrestling team returned from the NCAA Championships, which were held in Cleveland March 15-17, with three All-American recognitions and a coach of the year honor.
Senior Darian Cruz became a three-time All-American at 125 pounds, finishing his final season as a Mountain Hawk with a 30-2 record and his Lehigh career with a 120-20 overall record. He placed fifth at the championships.
Junior Jordan Kutler followed in sixth place at 174 and received his first All-American recognition. Senior Scott Parker earned All-American honors for the second time and came in seventh at 133. Kutler finished his season with a 22-5 record, and Parker finished with a 28-5 record.
Entering the championships, however, Kutler had hoped to leave as a national champion.
“I wanted to win nationals, but it was pretty cool being named an All-American,” Kutler said. “I was very ready to compete at a new weight class.”
Although the three wrestlers acknowledge the importance of their All-American recognitions, they were not satisfied with their individual performances or the team’s 15th-place finish.
Coach Pat Santoro — who won the National Wrestling Coaches Association Division I Coach of the Year title for the first time in his career — said while several wrestlers found individual success, the team as a whole fell short.
“We were very happy for the three wrestlers who were recognized as All-Americans,” Santoro said. “But, we were disappointed that our team didn’t finish where we wanted to.”
Kutler said the team was capable of coming home with more than three All-Americans and placing in the top five teams at the NCAAs. He said one of the issues Lehigh faced was wrestling “tentatively” and focusing on winning matches as individuals, rather than scoring points as a team.
The Mountain Hawks said moving forward, during the offseason they need to put in the work needed to fulfill their goal of finishing at the top of their weight classes and ending the season on a better note.
Next year’s team, however, will lose a key factor and leader in Cruz.
Parker and Kutler said they recognize they will be responsible for stepping up and leading the next generation of Mountain Hawks.
“I have always considered myself a leader on the team,” Kutler said. “We are going to miss Darian (Cruz) for his leadership, but guys like Scotty (Parker) and myself are going to continue to lead.”
As Cruz closes out his Lehigh career, the team will look to continue to grow behind the mentorship of Santoro, who said his success as a coach is possible because of the constant support he receives from his wrestlers and fellow coaches.
“I think he deserved (NWCA Coach of the Year) 100 percent,” Parker said. “He is a great ambassador for the sport, and he really strives for us to be good people before wrestlers.”
Despite not finding the success it was looking for in Cleveland, the Lehigh wresting team finished the season with a 12-3 overall record, a 7-1 conference record and a first-place finish at the EIWA Championships to claim eighth in the division.