BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh wrestling team returned to the mats Wednesday afternoon for the first official practice of the 2012-13 season. The Mountain Hawks took to the mats in the Billy Sheridan Wrestling Room in the Gerald G. Leeman Wrestling Complex, kicking off three weeks of preseason workouts leading up to the annual Brown and White Wrestle-offs on Thursday, November 1.
The Mountain Hawks are coming off back-to-back eighth place finishes at the NCAA Championships and have had one national champion, four national finalists and seven All-Americans over the last two campaigns.
Head coach Pat Santoro enters his fifth season looking to replace five NCAA qualifiers from a year ago, including All-Americans Brandon Hatchett, Joe Kennedy and Zach Rey. The program does feature several key returnees, led by EIWA Champion Shane Welsh and two-time All-American Robert Hamlin plus 15 freshmen are on board as part of one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.
“The staff has been looking forward to today all semester,” Santoro said. “It’s a great time to get everyone together and talk about what we need to work on.
He continued, “We’re young. We have to replace a lot but these guys have been in the trenches last year waiting for the opportunity. I know a lot of guys are excited. Joey Napoli (coming off a deferred year) is excited. We’re probably going to have some freshmen starting, but they’re tough freshmen.”
One thing Santoro likes about this year’s team early on is the leadership provided by the likes of Welsh, Hamlin and Napoli, who will move up to 157 for his junior season.
“We have one of the best leadership groups I’ve seen in my years coaching,” Santoro said. “Between Robert, Shane, Joe. The list goes on. This is a really tight-knit group. The guys work really hard and work well together. The freshmen could not ask for a better group of leaders to work with.”
More than half the Mountain Hawks roster consists of true freshmen, deferred freshmen or true sophomores, which may change Santoro’s approach slightly in the early part of preseason practice.
“We’ll probably do a little more instruction early on,” Santoro said. “It’s all about getting the fundamentals down. At the end of the day it’s all about solid fundamental wrestling.”
Santoro knows that there is a lot of work to be done during preseason camp, leading up to the annual Wrestle-offs, November 1 inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall.
“Like we always talk about, we need to be aggressive,” Santoro explained. “We need to score points. We need to keep it fun, but also work on fundamental skills and solid position wrestling.”
The Mountain Hawks will open the 2012-13 season on Thursday November 8, when they host the Binghamton Bearcats inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. Season and single-match tickets for Lehigh Wrestling are on sale and can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME or by logging on to Lehighsports.com.