When senior wrestler Jake Jakobsen was a redshirt freshman, he told head coach Pat Santoro, after they lost the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Conference (EIWAs) in 2017, that Lehigh would win four in a row for him.
Fast forward four years later, Lehigh has a chance to complete the four-peat on Feb. 26.
While the tournament won’t look anything like it used to due to there being no fans allowed at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pennsylvania, the Mountain Hawks are hungry to capture another title. The match is only one day, instead of three and no Ivy League teams are allowed to compete, due to the cancelation of their league sports.
Adversity has been a common theme throughout this year, but no team might be more determined to capture that unfinished business than Lehigh.
“We want to do it for Lehigh and for the coaches,” said junior Jimmy Hoffman. “ We put in so much work and faced so much adversity as well as other programs, but I really felt like we did a really good job of staying disciplined throughout the entire year because there were a lot of changes to be made. It will definitely be special if we can bring back a fourth title and keep the EIWA trophy in Caruso Complex.”
After they captured their third EIWA title and qualified nine-wrestlers for the NCAA Championships in 2020, their season was canceled just five days later. Not having much control, the team went back to work and started training for a season they didn’t even know was a possibility.
On Dec. 17, 2020, almost nine months after their season was canceled, it was announced they’d have a season with their first match coming against Hofstra on Jan. 2. Ten minutes before the Hofstra match, it was canceled.
Jakobsen said he remembers looking at coach Santoro and the team thought he was joking when they heard the news.
“A lot of kids on our team took it to heart a little bit, but I looked over at coach Pat (Santoro) and was like ‘we’ve been through this,” Jakobsen said. “ This isn’t anything new in the age of COVID, and you just got to get the next one.”
So when what was supposed to be their last matches before EIWAs were canceled, they got right back to work. While most of the team has an idea of who will be wrestling in the tournament, the whole team has to stay prepared in case one were to get injured or have to quarantine.
Knowing anything can be taken away from you in a second, Hoffman said there will be some extra motivation heading into EIWAs.
“(Last year’s situation) was terrible,” Hoffman said. “Everything about that was absolutely brutal. I didn’t want to end my season like that last year—especially getting an at-large bid and knowing my last competition I didn’t perform to my standards. This gives me the extra feeling to just get after it and appreciate it even more and lead up into nationals to do what I can there and hopefully become a National Champion or All-American.”
While the team is looking forward to EIWAs, they’re treating this like any other competition.
“I’m just looking at it like any other tournament,” said freshman Luca Frinzi. “I’ve been wrestling for so long, so I’m just going to prepare the same way I always do, which is starting in the practice room. I just have to get at it this week and stay focused on my goals and what I”m trying to accomplish.”
Sitting at 3-4, this team hasn’t had many opportunities to showcase their talent. They have some of their top wrestlers out due to season-ending injuries, but this team isn’t afraid to show people they’re still the same Lehigh team they’ve always been.
Although they have key guys out like Josh Humphreys, the defending two-time EIWA Champion and most outstanding wrestler, in the recent coaches poll, five of their wrestlers were ranked in the top 35, with senior Jordan Wood leading at No.7 at the 285 weight class. Even after all they’ve gone through this season, they are still a tight-knit group.
“One thing that really helps is how close we are as a team and how the young guys on our team are just trying to pick up where we last left off,” Frinzi said.