Fifth-year Chase Gallik competes on the mat during a match against Princeton on Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, at Grace Hall. The Mountain Hawks spent the summer preparing for the 2019-2020 season, hoping to improve their record from last year. (Adele Hancock/B&W Staff)

Wrestle-offs test physical and mental toughness of Lehigh wrestlers

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Following an impressive showing of individual performances at the Wrestle-offs on Oct. 24 — an event in which Lehigh wrestlers match up against one another — the team looks forward to a long season packed with tough competition and an additional opportunity to succeed at the EIWA and NCAA championships in the spring. 

The Wrestle-offs presented a chance for the Mountain Hawks to wrestle in inter-squad matches, showcase individual abilities and pinpoint areas for improvement before the official season begins.  

“It gives old guys another chance to compete in public and gives new guys a chance to see where they stand on the team,” coach Pat Santorno said.

Newly-recruited Mountain Hawks were introduced to the high pressure environment tied to Lehigh’s wrestling program. Because Lehigh wrestling is a historically successful team with a large fan base, the event helped familiarize the young wrestlers with the heightened stakes of the division. 

“It’s an open event, and it’s the first time to get out on the mat in front of people for some of the new guys,” senior Nick Farro said. “It’s a great way to get acclimated to wrestling again after the off-season.” 

Santorno said it’s often difficult to compete against a teammate, but the Wrestle-offs test more than merely physical ability — the competition is also a test of a wrestler’s mental perseverance. He said the mental challenges of the event are much tougher than the physical ones. 

Santorno said the team harnesses the mentality that if a Mountain Hawk can pin a teammate, he should have no issue pinning an opponent. He said the team now has a better understanding of what it needs to improve upon and is working to eliminate those inconsistencies. 

“We saw some really good things and some things that we can improve on,” Santorno said. “We need to be a little more aggressive on our feet and go for more pins. That’s the name of the game.”

As for the upcoming season, the wrestlers have high expectations. Senior Joe Lobeck said Lehigh expects to win a team trophy come March, and the wrestlers are hoping to place Top 4 at the NCAA Championships.

Lobeck is optimistic the team will achieve its goals for the season, especially given the return of wrestlers who suffered injuries last season. 

“This year is a really special group,” Lobeck said. “The energy in the room is great, and there’s a strong focus on accomplishing our goals. I think we have a better attitude earlier this year, which will pay dividends come March.”

In pursuit of championship titles and individual records, Lehigh has implemented new rules associated with health and rehabilitation. The wrestlers placed greater emphasis on hydration this season in order to safely push themselves harder.

“Every wrestler in the country works hard, but it’s all about the recovery,” Santorno said. “The more fresh you are, the more you are going to learn.”

Farro said the Mountain Hawks also adopted a slightly different training regiment to put the athletes in the best position to achieve their individual and team goals.

Regardless of any changes that have been made, Farro said as long as the team is healthy and consistent, the Mountain Hawks will be prepared for any challenges that come its way. 

“If we can get through this semester without too many injuries, then we’ll be fine,” Farro said. “We want to make sure that we don’t peak too far ahead of nationals.”

Lobeck said one of the biggest challenges this season will not be an opponent, but rather Lehigh’s ability to maintain individual and team goals throughout the season. 

He said it can be easy to lose sight of the long-term goals set in the beginning of the season because the season spans from October to March.

The Mountain Hawks will begin its season against No. 4 Oklahoma State at 1 p.m. on Nov. 16, at Stabler Arena.

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