Lehigh wrestling sophomore Ryan Crookham after defeating Penn senior Michael Colaiocco in Grace Hall on Jan. 19, 2024. Lehigh wrestling heads to the EIWA Championships on March 8, 2024, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (Holly Fasching / B&W Staff)

Lehigh wrestling prepares for conference championships


On Friday, March 8, Lehigh’s No. 17 wrestling team will travel across Pennsylvania to Lewisburg to compete in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championship. 

Lehigh leads the 17-team conference with 38 championships, accounting for 31.67% of titles in the league’s history. The Mountain Hawks are striving for another after racking up seven straight wins against conference opponents and finishing the season 7-4. 

Lehigh enters the championship with seven wrestlers seeded third or higher in their weight class: true first-year Luke Stanich, deferred first-year Ryan Crookham, deferred junior Michael Beard and true sophomore Nathan Taylor are all four ranked first in their respective weight classes.  

“Bottom line is our guys just believe in what they’re doing,” coach Pat Santoro said. “Practices will get shorter but really the training for (the week leading up to the EIWA Championship) is really for the NCAA (championship) because you’re not going to change your shape in one week.”

Beard noted the importance of the seven-straight EIWA dual wins from Jan. 12 to Feb. 17, which included wins over No. 9 Cornell, No. 18 Navy and UPenn, a team that was unranked at the time of their matchup but now sits at No. 25. 

“I feel like momentum is a huge part going into the postseason,” Beard said. “We’re wrestling good right now, there’s no need to change anything and if you look at the postseason and get all nervous, you’re going to wrestle worse.” 

Beard transferred from Penn State ahead of last season and quickly became one of the best wrestlers on Lehigh’s roster, finishing second at the EIWA Championship last season and currently ranked third in the nation at 197 pounds by the coaches’ poll. 

Beard also leads Division I in technical falls with 15, which Santoro said is unusual for a wrestler in a heavier weight class. 

Crookham is another wrestler entering the EIWA Championship with an accolade. He is the only wrestler in the EIWA to enter the final day of competition with an undefeated record. 

The Lehigh Valley native finished 15-0 with a win over Cornell deferred senior Vito Arujau — the reigning freestyle 61 kg champion at the World Wrestling Championships. 

Despite gaining the edge in the conference seeding, Crookham gave praise to the former conference and NCAA champion. 

“(Arujau is) one of the people; when I’m doing film study, I’m gonna study his technique because he is so advanced,” Crookham said. “Having the opportunity to wrestle and compete against a high-caliber guy like that gets me excited. Because if I’m gonna win the national title I want to have the hardest weight.” 

Crookham shared Beard’s approach to the conference championship: treating it like any other meet. 

“One of the mistakes I’ve made in high school was making the state tournament bigger than it was,” Crookham said. “When I won I was kind of hit with this ‘what next?’ type of feeling and it let me down a little bit because it still is just a tournament at the end of the day — win or lose — you still have to take your finals on Monday.”

Santoro also mentioned the importance of having a relaxed mindset to make quicker decisions during the match. 

The Mountain Hawks enter with a plethora of talent to take back the title. Rounding out the one seeds are the heavyweight Taylor, who finished second at last season’s championship, and the 125-pounder Stanich, who enters this year’s tournament with a 14-2 record in his first collegiate season. 

Stalwart deferred juniors Malyke Hines, who Santoro commended for his offensive improvements after reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, and 157-pounder Max Brignola both claimed the third seed in their weight classes.

Deferred first-year 141-pounder Kelvin Griffin also ranks third in his weight class after being sidelined with an injury the season before.  

The Mountain Hawks enter the championship as one of the favorites to win, along with Cornell. The two schools have won every title since 2002, with Lehigh accounting for nine and Cornell capturing 13, including the past two. 

“(The most important thing is) just representing the school to the best of my ability,” Beard said. “If that’s winning EIWAs, then that’s what it is.”

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