PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Despite the absence of its two senior leaders, the Lehigh wrestling team enjoyed a strong finish Saturday as the EIWA Championships wrapped-up at the RAC. Freshman Randy Cruz, junior Joey Napoli and sophomore Nathaniel Brown all won individual EIWA titles as the Mountain Hawks finished in fourth place with 101.5 points.
All six Mountain Hawks who wrestled on Saturday won their final bouts. In addition to Lehigh’s three champions, sophomore Anthony Salupo finished fifth at 141, freshman John Bolich took fifth at 197 and freshman Max Wessell won by fall to finish seventh at 285. Lehigh crowned three individual champions for the second straight year and Brown and White wrestlers have now on 203 individual titles all time.
“It’s important to finish strong and to finish this session winning all our matches was good,” said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. “That’s what you need to do late in tournaments, to get stronger. We wrestled with a lot of intensity today which was good to see.”
Cruz, the No. 2 seed at 133, became Lehigh’s first true freshman EIWA champion since Jim Reilly in 1980 with a 6-1 decision over No. 8 seed Matt Bystol of Columbia. Cruz scored takedowns in the first and third periods and added a second period escape plus riding time advantage as he improves to 30-10 on the season.
“He did good job,” Santoro said of Cruz. “He kept wrestling and made some good adjustments during the match that you don’t see a lot of freshmen make. Instead of hanging around he put the match away at the end. That’s what you want to see.”
Napoli also claimed the first EIWA title of his career with a dominant 5-0 win over All-American Walter Peppelman of Harvard at 157. The No. 2 seed, Napoli converted a single leg takedown in the first period to lead 2-0 with over a minute of riding time after one. He chose neutral in a second period that featured no scoring and after Peppelman chose top in the third, Napoli secured a reversal and then rode out to clinch advantage time. Napoli enters the NCAA Championships at 18-2 and has won nine consecutive matches.
“Joey is focused,” Santoro said. “He just grinds the whole match. In two weeks is his main goal is still coming up but today’s a step in the right direction.”
In a wild finish, Brown became Lehigh’s third individual championship of the afternoon with a 3-2 decision over Mathew Miller of Navy. In a matchup of the top two seeds at 174, Brown opened the scoring with a second period escape. Leading 1-0 in the third, Brown rode Miller for more than a minute, before Miller secured a reversal. Brown had riding time clinched, but in the final seconds Miller turned Brown looking for near fall points but only received three one-counts before Brown escaped to tie the bout at two and then won the title with 1:12 of advantage time. Brown improved to 20-5 on the season and will compete in his first NCAA Championship in two weeks after not being able to compete due to injury last season.
"That was crazy, they were both flopping around so much,” Santoro said of the late scramble. “It was confusing with the reversal and then the possible back points but Nate kept wrestling and when you keep wrestling good things happen.”
After clinching a spot in the NCAA tournament on Friday, Salupo looked for a strong finish at 141. Salupo met Cornell’s Mike Nevinger in the consolation semifinals and scored an early third period takedown to take a 2-1 lead. Nevinger reversed, but Salupo managed an escape with one second remaining to tie the match at three and force overtime. Salupo took a quality shot in the sudden victory period, but it was Nevinger who scrambled into the winning takedown halfway through the period. In his fifth place match, Salupo scored a takedown in each period and added riding time advantage to win 7-4 over Trevor Melde of Rutgers.
Bolich finished one spot shy of automatic NCAA qualification at 197. In the consolation semifinals, Bolich scored the first takedown versus Jace Bennett of Cornell before Bennett reversed and added a two-point near fall to go up 4-2 after one period. Bennett added six points in the third to claim a 10-2 major decision. Bolich won by medical forfeit in his fifth place match and remains eligible for an at-large berth to the NCAA championships.
At heavyweight, Wessell ended his season on a high note, throwing Harvard’s David Ng to his back for a fall in just 37 seconds. Wessell finishes his freshman season at 15-8.
Lehigh competed Saturday without senior captains Robert Hamlin and Shane Welsh. Hamlin medically forfeited to sixth place at 184 after defaulting out of his semifinal match Friday night while Welsh was forced to withdraw from the tournament after winning his first bout on Friday.
“It was a tough tournament for us with two horses out, but right now it’s about being ready for the NCAA tournament and getting guys healthy,” Santoro explained. “We’re going to nationals to come away with All-Americans and National Champions. That’s the goal, plain and simple.”
Cornell won its seventh straight EIWA team title with 142 points, 24.5 more than second place Navy. Penn was third with 110.5 followed by Lehigh (101.5) and Rutgers (91). Big Red senior Kyle Dake swept the major awards, winning the Sheridan Trophy (most falls), Fletcher Trophy (career team points scored at EIWAs) and Coaches Trophy (Outstanding Wrestler).
At large bids are expected to be announced on Wednesday, March 13. Lehigh’s qualifiers will next compete at the NCAA Championships, March 21-23 in Des Moines, Iowa.
141 – Anthony Salupo
Consolation semifinal: L by dec. Mike Nevinger (Cornell) 5-3
Fifth place match: dec, Trevor Melde (Rutgers) 7-4
197 – John Bolich
Consolation semifinal: L by major dec. Jace Bennett (Cornell) 10-2
Fifth place match: W by forfeit Oscar Huntley (Navy)
285 – Max Wessell
Seventh place match: Fall David Ng (Harvard) 0:37