Pat Lugo sees a big opportunity when Iowa wrestling hosts Princeton
IOWA CITY, Ia. — One result in November may mean nothing come March, but it can alter expectations in the moment. And so Pat Lugo is already looking ahead to Friday’s big opportunity.
“I learned that I have to prepare myself better for matches,” said Lugo, the Iowa wrestling team’s starting 149-pounder. “I learned a lot of things. A couple of things on the mat, too. I just have to fix them for this week and move forward.”
Lugo made his Hawkeye debut last weekend when Iowa swept both Cal State Bakersfield and Kent State. It was not a memorable one, as the redshirt junior lost to Bakersfield's Russell Rohlfing, 10-9, in his first match in the all-black Iowa singlet.
It was not a good look for a guy considered among the many contenders in a wide-open 149-pound weight class this season. But narratives can change fast in college wrestling, and Lugo has an opportunity to shift it once again when the Hawkeyes host Princeton on Friday night.
In his Carver-Hawkeye Arena debut, Lugo will get a crack at Princeton junior Matthew Kolodzik, the nation’s consensus No. 1-ranked wrestler at 149 pounds. A win over Kolodzik, a two-time All-American, would put Lugo firmly back into that contender conversation.
“We have to be ready to go,” Iowa coach Tom Brands said. “We know we can go with the guy. We beat him last year. We know it’s a challenge — he’s the No. 1 guy in America. We know that he’s going to come in ready to go.
“I know — and Pat Lugo knows — that he’s better than he showed in the Cal State Bakersfield dual.”
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Lugo’s match against Rohlfing — who’s ranked No. 23 nationally by Trackwrestling while Lugo is No. 12 — left more to be desired. He jumped out to a 4-2 lead behind two first-period takedowns, but Rohlfing tied it with a takedown just before the end of the opening frame.
Where Lugo struggled was allowing Rohlfing to get to his ankles on shots and finish without much resistance. On all three of Rohlfing’s takedowns, he shot on Lugo’s ankle and finished by coming out the back. He did so twice in the third period.
Brands chalked Lugo’s performance up to a poor weight cut. He believes he can learn from it moving forward. Lugo did bounce back with a first-period pin over Kent State’s Kody Komara in the Hawkeyes’ next dual, one of four falls in a 45-0 team victory.
“I’m not concerned — if it doesn’t continue,” Brands said. “Sometimes, you skate through things, learn a lesson, and you’re fortunate to get the (win). But it’s not necessarily getting your hand raised. It’s how you get your hand raised.
“It’s not about winning and losing — but get the win. It’s about your pace and how you compete. Go out and represent yourself to the best of your ability.”
Lugo has dreamed of his making his Iowa City debut since he transferred from Edinboro after the 2016-17 season. He sat near the tunnel in Carver's northwest corner during each of Iowa’s home duals last year and envisioned himself running out to the crowd as the announcer yelled his name.
Come Friday, that vision will become reality, and Lugo will step on the mat and wrestle someone against whom he's had past success.
Lugo has two wins over Kolodzik in the last 11 months. At the U23 freestyle national championships in June, he beat Kolodzik by a 14-4 technical fall. At the Midlands last December, Kolodzik led 7-5 before Lugo escaped and ultimately pinned Kolodzik in a cow-catcher in the second period.
Kolodzik turned that Midlands loss into a momentous NCAA tournament run. He entered as the 11 seed and finished third, beating Iowa’s Brandon Sorensen along the way. It was the highest NCAA finish by a Princeton wrestler since 2002.
“Eventually, you get to a place where everybody is good, everybody wants to win, and you’re no exception wanting to win,” Kolodzik told Trackwrestling earlier this month at the NWCA All-Star Classic.
“What you can control is your ability — on literally a second-to-second basis — to throw it all out there on the line. When everybody else is hanging back, staying reserved, maybe waiting to pop one off at the end, you’re ready to go always, right now, in every second.”
Since both of last year’s national finalists graduated — Penn State’s Zain Retherford, a three-time champion, and Lock Haven’s Ronald Perry — Kolodzik entered this season at No. 1. Friday’s match will be his first of the season.
Lugo hopes to use it as his own springboard after stumbling last weekend.
“I think I can make a big statement,” Lugo said. “I have to handle my business, fix my mistakes, do what I do best and just wrestle my style. I need to brush off what happened last weekend, move forward and show Hawkeye fans that I’m here.
“I’m here to compete, here to wrestle, and to be a national champ.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
Iowa Wrestling (2-0) Hosts Princeton (0-0)
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City