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  • Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Photo: Photo/Mark Lundy

    Lugo ready for return to mat at Rumble on the Rooftop

    Pat Lugo before wrestling in the finals of the Midlands Championships (Photo/Mark Lundy, Lutte-Lens.com)

    Pat Lugo's college wrestling career came to an end during practice. The Iowa coaches broke the news to the team that the 2020 NCAA wrestling tournament would not take place due to the pandemic. Months later Lugo still says it is hard to describe his feelings regarding the cancellation. Like all the seniors who had their collegiate careers come to an end in anti-climatic fashion, the only thing Lugo can do is move on. For him that starts with a freestyle match against fellow senior Luke Pletcher at the upcoming Rumble on the Rooftop event on June 28.

    It will be his first time back in competition since what turned out to be his final collegiate match. It came in the 149-pound final of the Big Ten tournament. Lugo faced off against the only man to defeat him during his senior season, Sammy Sasso of Ohio State. In their first meeting back in January, neither wrestler scored a takedown, and Sasso walked away with an overtime victory.

    The rematch almost didn't materialize as Sasso struggled in an early round match against Yahya Thomas of Northwestern. However, Sasso prevailed and set up the bout Lugo was craving. In order to reverse the result, he needed a new mindset.

    "I thought, if I can make it a fight, I can win," Lugo says. "I've always been fighting."

    Unlike their first meeting, Lugo scored a first period takedown to set the tone. Sasso is known for his leg defense sourcery, so the Hawkeye went with an upper body attack. After securing double underhooks, he was able to transition to a body lock and put the first two points on the board.

    "Double unders is a place I have always felt comfortable. I wrestled a lot of Greco coming up," Lugo explains. "A lot of coaches may not want guys wrestling Greco, because it might mess up their folkstyle but wrestling is wrestling."

    With the victory, Lugo locked in the No. 1 seed for the 2020 NCAAs. He held wins over the second, third, fifth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th seeds. However, it was not meant to be. His Big Ten championship was a culmination of his college journey that started over 600 miles away from Iowa City. Lugo spent two years at Edinboro before transferring to Iowa and transforming his career.

    "It is kind of like they are wizards. They tap you, and you turn into gold," Lugo says about the Iowa training situation. "That is how it is, but you have to do your part. You have to put your time in. You have to believe that you are going to be the best. You have to believe that everything they tell you is the truth. I was kind of shying away from it in the beginning, but eventually I was like, 'man, what am i doing? I am missing out. This is going to be history, and I am missing out.' I had to do my part. Once I started doing my part, that is when everything started falling into place."

    With everything in place, it makes sense that Lugo decided to stick around Iowa City and continue his wrestling career for the Hawkeye Wrestling Club.

    "I have all the things I value here, why would I leave it?" he says. "It would be stupid of me to leave. I've got a lot of people that I care about here. Why would I leave? It would be like leaving a family or something for strangers."

    As a member of the HWC, Lugo only needed a competition to get back on track. Even during this hectic time, the opportunity to compete was welcome news.

    "Tom Brands came up to me and asked me if I wanted to do it," Lugo says. "I was like, I am ready. I had a couple of events in my life. I had a bachelor party, a couple of my friends were getting married, I had a couple camps here and there, but I cleared my schedule. I am not doing any of that stuff. I am going to wrestle. I am sorry guys. I am not going to miss this opportunity. I didn't wrestle at nationals, and I haven't wrestled in a long time."

    Pat Lugo walks out for his Big Ten championship match (Photo/Sam Janicki, SJanickiPhoto.com)

    That opportunity will come on Sunday against Luke Pletcher. Like Lugo, Pletcher was also one of the favorites to win a national title in his final season on the collegiate mats. He was teammates with Sasso last season, but Ligo sees clear differences in the challenges presented.

    "Pletcher is a little shorter, a little stronger," he explains. "They are both strong in their own ways. I haven't really been thinking about the match too much, like how he wrestles or what he might do or this and that, because that is not the way I like to think of things. I like to think of it as when the day comes. I am just focusing on myself right now, just focusing on myself, getting better in my positions, getting stronger, getting more in shape, trimming the fat. I am building right now, and when the time comes, I will look at him, he will look at me and we will wrestle. That's it."

    Sports and nostalgia are naturally intertwined. Competitors and fans look back on events and results with sentimental longing or wistful affection. In the words of William Faulkner, "the past is never dead. It's not even past." Perhaps this is what makes moving on difficult for athletes who miss out on the opportunity to build positive memories. For wrestlers in the class of 2020 competition may be the best remedy, and Lugo gets that chance at Rumble on the Rooftop.

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