Pat Lugo relishing Midlands opportunity during redshirt year
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Pat Lugo stood underneath the Sears Centre Arena in an already-drenched sweatpants and sweatshirt combination. The Iowa junior strapped on his headgear and continued toward the hallway. After five matches, he still had some work to do.
“Coming here really helped me realize what I need to work on,” Lugo said. “So now, when I go back to the room, I can work on them.”
Lugo is relishing his opportunity at this weekend’s 55th annual Ken Kraft Midlands Championships. After transferring from Edinboro over the summer, he is redshirting this season, meaning this will likely be his biggest competition of the season. Beginning in 2018-19, he will take his final two years of eligibility to compete for the Hawkeyes.
During Friday’s first two sessions, Lugo produced a solid outing. Competing at 149 pounds, he reached the Round of 16 after back-to-back decisions, but once there, he lost to Arizona State’s Joshua Maruca, 4-1, dropping to the wrestlebacks.
Lugo rebounded with back-to-back victories, which pushed him into Day Two. He will face Rutgers’ Eleazar Deluca during Saturday’s Session III. A win there will put him on the podium, a proud achievement considering 149 is arguably the tournament’s deepest weight.
“I made a few mistakes, felt like I could’ve done better,” Lugo said. “I feel like I could’ve been in the semifinals, for sure. But just little mistakes I have to work on.”
For Lugo, this entire year has been dedicated to fixing those little mistakes. He spent his first two seasons with Edinboro, where he won 63 matches in two seasons and twice qualified for the NCAA Championships. But both times, he failed to earn All-American status.
As such, Lugo sought a change of scenery. With a redshirt year still available, he announced a move to Iowa. The plan was rather logical — while Brandon Sorensen, the Hawkeyes’ three-time All-American at 149, completed his senior campaign, Lugo would work in the background, learn and grow and, perhaps, assume the starting role for the two years after.
The assimilation didn’t take long. Lugo fit in almost seamlessly, and with the Hawkeyes, he found training partners he felt would better help him achieve his goals — namely, of course, an NCAA title.
“The biggest difference was training partners,” Lugo said. “I have more of a variety of training partners. I have guys that are solid wrestlers, guys that are kind of funky, guys that will go for 30 minutes, guys that will go in smaller spurts — I get a lot of different looks.”
Lugo has enjoyed his time with the Hawkeyes, despite not competing regularly like he did with the Fighting Scots. Head coach Tom Brands has continually expressed his support for Lugo, both on and off the mat.
During finals week, Lugo walked into the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex one morning. Brands asked Lugo about a final he had just returned from. Lugo said it went well as he walked into the locker room, and Brands gave him a thumbs up, followed by, “Proud of you.”
On Friday, Brands offered a broad assessment of Lugo’s day. In the wrestlebacks, he turned in a 9-2 decision over Brandon Wright, a two-time NAIA national champion at Grand View, following up with a first-period pin over Cal Poly’s Joshua Cortez.
Brands was pleased with the way Lugo bounced back — and also likes how Lugo has been competing in the room each day.
“That’s why he came,” Brands said. “He came because he had a redshirt, and there was some potential things happening at Edinboro that he didn’t like, so he transferred here and we’re redshirting him because it’s the best thing for him.
“He came out of high school and wrestled two years and did some good things, but missed the true prize — and that’s being a national champion, and that’s what we’re developing him to be.”
Day One of the Midlands showed that Lugo is on his way. He entered as the 10 seed at 149, and a win on Saturday would guarantee him a top-eight finish. It would be one step closer toward his ultimate goal, something he’ll continue to work for even after this weekend ends.
“It’s been good,” Lugo said. “I can see myself being with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club after I graduate. It’s a lot of fun."
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.