Lehigh set to return to mats at 49th Midlands Championships
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – No. 12 Lehigh returns to the mats following a layoff of nearly three weeks as the Mountain Hawks will compete at the prestigious Midlands Championships, hosted by Northwestern Thursday and Friday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. The Mountain Hawks were last in action on December 9 when they fell 24-12 to Penn State in the 100th dual meeting between the longtime rivals at Stabler Arena.
Lehigh brings a contingent of 11 attached wrestlers to one of the nation’s premier in-season tournaments, plus junior Joey Napoli who will compete unattached while he defers his eligibility. Four Mountain Hawks are ranked in the latest Amateur Wrestling News poll, with top-ranked junior Robert Hamlin, seniors Brandon Hatchett and Joe Kennedy and sophomore Steve Dutton having good chances at earning top eight seeds.
The Midlands is a national invitational/open event for outstanding college teams, clubs and individuals. It is one of the premier wrestling events in the nation, annually drawing 350 of the country’s best wrestlers. The Ken Kraft Midlands Championships are in their 49th year, with Lehigh sending a contingent of wrestlers to Evanston for the third straight year after previously not sending wrestlers since 2004 and not sending a full squad since 2002. More than 30 colleges will send wrestlers to this year’s Midlands. Three of the top five teams from last year’s Midlands return, including runner-up Wisconsin, third place Lehigh and fourth place Iowa.
It is believed to be the 31st time in 49 tournaments that Lehigh will have at least one wrestler entered in the Midlands. Zach Rey captured Lehigh’s fourth undergraduate Midlands title with his win at heavyweight last year. Rey joins Jon Trenge (2002 and 2004) and Darryl Burley (1981) as Lehigh wrestlers who won undergraduate Midlands titles. Burley was also a three-time finalist. Tihamer Toth-Fejel ‘76 was a five-time Midlands placer as a post-graduate competitor and also won a Midlands title.
Four Mountain Hawks are ranked in the latest polls conducted by Amateur Wrestling News, while five Lehigh grapplers are ranked by InterMat and W.I.N. Magazine. All five ranked Lehigh wrestlers are in the top 11 at their respective weight classes. Robert Hamlin has been ranked No. 1 at 184 since the end of November and is coming off an 8-3 win over defending national champion Quentin Wright of Penn State. Sophomore Steve Dutton fell out of the A.W.N. rankings after missing a month due to injury but is still ranked by the other two outlets and is expected to return to action at the Midlands.
Lehigh has sent wrestlers to seven open tournaments this season, including a number of starters at the UB Open and Knight Point Clarion Opens in early November. Fourteen Mountain Hawks have won a total of 29 places. Six different wrestlers have captured open tournament titles, including Joey Napoli who defeated teammate Eric Hess in the finals of both the TCNJ Open and the Mat Town Invitational. Napoli will be Lehigh’s 12th Midlands Championships entrant, competing unattached while he defers his eligibility.
Seeds and brackets for the 49th Ken Kraft Midlands Championships are expected to be announced Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. Competition begins Thursday 9:30 a.m. (CT) from Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena. Action continues all day Thursday and Friday with the finals slated for a 7 p.m. start Friday night. The Midlands finals will be televised via tape delay by the Big Ten Network, Friday at 9:30 p.m. (CT).