Defending National Champ Cruz Focused on Legacy, Style, & Title #2

CLEVELAND, OH – Not many undefeated, defending NCAA champions go through the course of their senior season as one of the least-discussed athletes in their respective weight-class, but that’s been the story of Lehigh senior Darian Cruz’s final go-around. Wrestling media outlets across the nation have focused on any one of a number of story-lines at 125 pounds this season: Nick Suriano’s move from Penn State to Rutgers to Nathan Tomasello’s return to 125 pounds to Iowa true-freshman Spencer Lee putting himself on the national map, but positive mentions of Cruz have been hard to come by outside of his hometown Bethlehem newspaper and the Lehigh senior is just fine with that.

“Honestly, I guess it’s kind of been the buzz all year. And I’m cool with that. It’s crazy seeing how good the sport of wrestling is getting in the sense that guys are becoming better younger. They’re becoming better earlier,” Cruz said of the story-lines that have dominated his weight-class this season. “I think it’s good for them getting all that buzz. And me personally, I don’t see it as extra motivation. It’s motivation in itself to try to chase another title or try to chase at least something new in the sense that, chase this year’s title as opposed to last year.”

Winning his second title will be no easy task for Cruz, though. He faces a potential rematch of last year’s NCAA final with Minnesota junior Ethan Lizak in Friday morning’s quarterfinal round before potentially running into the man that many are picking to win this weight, Rutgers’ Nick Suriano. Should Cruz come off the top side of the bracket unscathed, he will likely face the winner of Ohio State’s Nathan Tomasello, an opponent that he has wrestled numerous times throughout their careers, or Iowa’s freshman phenom (and Pennsylvania native) Spencer Lee.

Of his draw and path to a second national title, Cruz was fairly concise in saying, “Everyone in this tournament has got to beat the guy on the other side of the line no matter what you’re seeded. So every seed, every spot in the bracket is a tough draw.”

It’s not just title number two that Cruz is chasing, however. He also wants to leave a lasting impact on both the Lehigh program as well as the style aspect of the sport. When asked about the custom-made shoes that he will be wearing this weekend and how he came to be one of college wrestling’s de-facto fashion icons, Darian smiled and had a unique response.

“I think the first time I kind of really realized that I can be impactful in that aspect was after last year winning nationals and stuff like that. I was at a camp and some little kid commented on the shoes I was wearing in the tournament. They weren’t that cool…The kid even called them the uglies…He was, like, ‘man, the shoes weren’t that cool but everyone’s wearing them now’.” He then said, “That’s why this year I decided to do something to my shoe, custom them up…Like Bryce was saying, leaving your impact and branding yourself. And I think it’s cool to see other athletes being unique in their own way.”

Regardless of result and media coverage, it’s safe to say that Darian Cruz will walk out of Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night having left a lasting impact not only on the Lehigh program and the world of wrestling fashion, but on the hearts and minds of any fan, coach, or teammate that took the time to watch a special career unfold over the last five years in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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