BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- The Lehigh wrestling team officially kicked off its preparations for the 2013-14 season as Thursday marked the first official day of practice. The Mountain Hawks took to the mats in their new training home, the Caruso Wrestling Complex for their first official workout.
Lehigh has a full month before its dual season begins at home versus Bucknell on November 9, but just two weeks before the annual Brown and White Wrestle-offs October 24 inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall.
"The first day is always exciting," said Lehigh head coach Pat Santoro. "It's wrestling season. That's what we do. We love to wrestle. Our team loves to be in this room. We're very excited about competition next month. It's not too far away. Wrestle-offs are just two weeks away."
Santoro begins his sixth season with another relatively young squad. Lehigh will look to replace a minimum of four wrestlers who competed at last year's EIWA Championships, including All-American and NCAA Finalist Robert Hamlin, EIWA Champion Shane Welsh and Alex Abreu, who all graduated in May. Just five of the 30 men on Lehigh's roster hold junior or senior eligibility.
"It's a young team, but I like the way they wrestle," Santoro said. "They're exciting to watch. They're just trying to score points. When you have a young team you like to see guys who wrestle hard. That's what we're looking for."
The Mountain Hawks do return all three of their 2013 EIWA Champions in senior Joey Napoli, junior Nathaniel Brown and sophomore Randy Cruz. In addition, sophomore Mason Beckman, who was selected to compete at the NWCA All-Star Classic earlier this week, returns to the lineup at 133 after an impressive 2012-13 season in which he deferred his eligibility.
The public wrestle-offs are just two weeks away, and while those results may not lead to final decisions, Santoro knows that wrestling has become a year-round sport and that the wrestlers will take it upon themselves to be ready to go.
"It's a tight timetable, but at the end of the day these guys have been pushing themselves all year," Santoro said. "It's one of those things you just have to do. The wrestlers knew the schedule. They're prepared for that. We'll see in two weeks how everybody handles everything."
For the next two weeks the goal is simple: just keep getting better.
"Today is day one," Santoro said. "We're excited. We have a lot of potential. Every day we have to get better and grow and learn."
Following the Brown and White Wrestle-offs on October 24, Lehigh's first full-squad competition will be the Knight Point Clarion Open on Sunday, November 3. The Mountain Hawks will open the dual season on Saturday November 9 against the Bucknell Bison at 7 p.m. inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall. The Bucknell match begins a stretch of four straight home duals to open the season, a stretch that includes matches with Bloomsburg, Penn State and Pittsburgh. 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 LehighTickets.com.