Lehigh’s Darian Cruz wanted to enjoy the moment with his family after coming home from St. Louis on Sunday following the conclusion of the NCAA wrestling championships Saturday night.
With District 11 wrestling on the national spotlight over the weekend, the former Golden Hawk turned Mountain Hawk took home the ultimate prize after posting a 6-3 decision over Minnesota’s Ethan Lizak to win the 125-pound NCAA championship.
It was a life-altering achievement for the red shirt junior and Cruz just wanted to soak it all in with the people that have supported him the most in his life.
“I just came home and wanted to keep the phone away,” he said after arriving back in the Lehigh Valley. “My phone was blowing up all weekend. When I came home, I just wanted to celebrate with my family and enjoy it. It made me feel good to see them so happy.”
That happiness rolled over to start the week, where the life of a college athlete puts you on top of the world Saturday, and then back in the classroom Monday morning.
“It really was fun going to class,” he said of his first time back on campus. “I’m a pretty friendly guy to start with, but it was great to see so many people excited and coming up to me. They had their own chants going too and everyone was just talking to me. It’s been an awesome experience.”
Coming into the tournament as a four-seed, Cruz scored a major upset in the semifinals with a 4-2 victory over Iowa’s Thomas Gilman, the top-seed in the tournament, to springboard his trip to the finals.
That set the stage for a D11 final between Parkland graduate Ethan Lizak, who defeated Cruz 8-0 earlier this season.
Cruz wasn’t going to let that result replicate itself, as he scored a first period takedown on Lizak with a front headlock to grab the pivotal opening points of the match. With the bout tied at 2-2 in the third period, he scored a takedown near the edge of the mat with :30 seconds left in the bout for the go-ahead score.
The takedown was disputed by Minnesota’s coaching staff, but after review was confirmed.
He capped off the match with a takedown with a second remaining to etch his name in history, giving Lehigh it’s 28th national title, as Cruz became the 22nd individual to come away with a national championship for the program.
“I was really excited with the win over Gilman,” said Cruz. “After I won in the finals, I was more relieved than anything. When you get to this point, it really is about taking things one match at a time. I didn’t want to make it bigger than it was and just kept things simple.”
Cruz admitted that winning a national title was always a goal of his coming into the program and now that reality is settling in, he’s reaping some of the fringe benefits of becoming a national champ.
“I was hearing that they’re going to name a sandwich after me at the Goosemen,” he said of the South Side’s legendary deli shop. “That’s going to be pretty cool.”