BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Eight home duals and visits to national powers Penn State and Iowa highlight the 2012-13 Lehigh wrestling schedule announced Tuesday by head coach Pat Santoro. In all, the Mountain Hawks will face three of the top five finishers and nine of the top 20 teams from last year’s NCAA Championships, including the two-time defending national champion Nittany Lions in the 101st meeting between the longtime Eastern rivals.
“It doesn’t matter if we graduated three All-Americans,” explained Santoro, who enters his fifth season. “This schedule provides more opportunity for people to step up and wrestle. We need to be wrestling the best competition. The ultimate goal is still going to be March but every dual meet is going to have a lot of importance. We’re wrestling some very good teams including the No. 1, No. 3 and No. 4 finishers from last year. That’s what Lehigh wrestling is. We always want to wrestle the best competition we can.”
The 104th season of Lehigh wrestling begins with the annual wrestle-offs, scheduled for Thursday, November, 1 inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. One week later, the Mountain Hawks will open the dual season against Binghamton inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. The Bearcats are a team on the rise following a 14th place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships.
The Mountain Hawks will then hit the road for duals on back-to-back days, beginning with Penn State on Friday, November 16 and then concluding with a visit to Bloomsburg the following afternoon.
The Nittany Lions are coming off consecutive national team titles and should provide an interesting test early on for the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh will look to avenge its 24-12 loss to Penn State last year in front of nearly 5,600 fans at Stabler Arena in the 100th dual between the rivals.
Lehigh will be off during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and will return home for two matches against Hofstra on Friday, November 30 and Penn on Saturday, December 1. Both matches will take place inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall, with the Penn match serving as the annual Billy Sheridan Memorial Dual, where Lehigh will recognize its legendary former coach, who earned his first dual win for the Brown and White 100 years ago.
The Mountain Hawks will wrap-up the fall part of their dual schedule on Thursday, December 6, when they head to Iowa City, Iowa to face the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa captured three straight national team titles from 2008-2010 and finished third at last year’s NCAA Championships. This will mark the first time the Mountain Hawks have traveled to the state of Iowa for a dual meet in ten years.
“It’s a great atmosphere to compete in,” Santoro said. “When you have a lot of fans rooting against you it does a lot for your mental toughness. You find out a lot about yourself. Iowa has a great team with a great coach. For us, it’s a great opportunity to wrestle in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Something they will always remember.”
Following a break for final exams and the holidays, Lehigh will close out 2012 at the Midlands Championships, December 29-30 in Evanston, Ill. The Midlands is consistently one of the nation’s toughest in-season tournaments. Lehigh will make its fourth straight full-squad appearance as the Midlands Celebrates its 50th anniversary.
“It’s like a mini-national tournament that features some of the best kids in the country,” Santoro said of the Midlands. “To go out there and place says a lot, especially about your development. It’s one of the best events out there. I always enjoy going out there to get as many good matches as possible for our guys.”
Lehigh will bring in the New Year at home on Sunday January 6 when the Mountain Hawks face rival Cornell. The Big Red have won the last six EIWA team titles and defeated the Mountain Hawks last year in Ithaca, N.Y. Last time the Big Red visited Bethlehem, Lehigh defeated then-No. 1 ranked Cornell at Stabler Arena in 2011. This year, Lehigh will host Cornell at Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall for the first time since 2005.
“Everybody loves Grace Hall,” Santoro said. “We try to wrestle there as much as we can, but we also understand the importance of having duals at Stabler Arena and drawing 5,000 fans. In this case, our students will still be on break, but we figured we could pack 2,000-plus in Grace Hall and create a great atmosphere.”
The Mountain Hawks will then take to the road for three consecutive matches against EIWA opponents. Lehigh visits Navy on Saturday, January 12 and then will make the short trek to Washington, D.C. to face American the next day. The road swing concludes with a visit to Rutgers on Friday, January 18.
On January 25 the Mountain Hawks return home will face a battle tested Oklahoma team at Stabler Arena, looking to avenge a loss to the Sooners last year in Norman. The Sooners finished 13th at last year’s NCAA Championships. The following day, Lehigh will battle another tough national foe as Oregon State visits Leeman-Turner Arena. The Beavers are coming off a tenth place finish at last year’s NCAA Championships.
The Mountain Hawks will close out their home schedule on February 10 with a doubleheader at Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall as Lehigh will face Harvard at 1 p.m. and Brown at 3 p.m.
Lehigh’s final three duals will be on the road, in the state of Pennsylvania. The Mountain Hawks will head to the western part of the state to face Pittsburgh on Friday February 15, before meeting Clarion the following afternoon. The dual meet season wraps up at Bucknell on Friday February 22.
“There are going to be a lot of fun duals and a lot of great competition,” Santoro said. “Between Penn State and Cornell and having Oklahoma and Oregon State come here. Our fans will be able to see a lot of great wrestling both at home and close to home.”
From there, the Mountain Hawks will shift focus to the postseason, which begins with the EIWA Championships, hosted by Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. March 8-9.
The NCAA Championships are slated for March 21-23 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.
Lehigh wrestling season and single match tickets are now on sale and can be purchased by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by visiting the Lehigh Ticket Office located in Stabler Arena, or by logging on to Lehighsports.com.
The Mountain Hawks return five NCAA qualifiers for the 2012-13 season, including EIWA Champion Shane Welsh, and two-time All-American Robert Hamlin.
Story by C.J. McCollum ‘13