Lehigh's Zach Rey celebrates after his team's win over No. 1 Cornell. Lehigh University photo.
Lehigh s top ranked Zach Rey looking to capture first NCAA title at heavyweight
This was the kind of moment heavyweight wrestlers like Lehigh junior Zach Rey dream about.
Final match of the night. Team down by two. Facing the No. 1 team in the country. Boisterous home crowd on its feet.
Rey delivered in his big moment in the spotlight, scoring a dominating 8-0 major decision over Oney Snyder to lift No. 17 Lehigh to a dramatic 17-15 win over top-ranked Cornell on Jan. 20 in Bethlehem, Pa.
"That was an amazing match and a great environment to wrestle in" Rey said. "The fans were so loud and the atmosphere was just crazy in there. We knew we could compete with Cornell. Everybody on our team did what they needed to do. It was a great night."
Placing the dual's outcome in the hands of Rey was the perfect scenario for Lehigh. Rey, coming off a third-place finish at the 2010 NCAA tournament, is 20-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally this season. He's already beaten 11 ranked wrestlers, including six ranked in the top 10.
"Zach kept his composure in that match against Cornell and he kept wrestling hard" Lehigh coach Pat Santoro said. "He came through for us. He's pretty focused. He's one of those guys that take wrestling really seriously. He studies a lot of film and is constantly working hard to become a better wrestler."
Rey is as tough as any heavyweight out there. He tore the ACL and MCL in his knee during the state semifinals, but that didn't stop him as he won one of his two New Jersey state high school titles.
"I knew how bad it was" he said. "But I had to finish it off."
Rey was recruited to Lehigh by Coach Greg Strobel and redshirted his first season there.
Strobel then retired and Santoro took over the Lehigh program.
"I didn't really know any of the new coaches when they came in, but they've been great" Rey said. "I think we have the best coaches in the nation in my eyes. They do everything we need to put us in the best situations to compete with other teams."
One of Rey's coaches has had a huge impact on him. 2008 Olympian and two-time NCAA champion Steve Mocco is now on the Lehigh staff as a volunteer assistant coach.
"Mocco really pushes me" Rey said. "He makes sure I do everything right and makes sure I am working as hard as I can. He lifts with me and wrestles with me. He's making me stronger. He gets me fired up about wrestling. When you have someone with his credentials and experience trying to make you better, you take it to heart. You can't help but get better being around a guy like that."
Rey has acquired his share of bumps and bruises from rolling around with the powerful Mocco, who hasn't wrestled competitively since early last season.
"Mocco kills me - he beats the crap out of me" Rey said. "He's still really good. He's taught me how to be tougher and how to be more dominant. He's a great hand fighter and he's helped me a lot in that area. He takes it to me, but it's making me better."
Santoro can see the impact Mocco has had on Rey.
"Steve's been a tremendous addition and he pushes Zach to the limit" Santoro said. "Having one of the best wrestlers in the World in our room has been huge for Zach."
Rey made the University World Team in freestyle for the U.S. in 2010. He went 1-1 and placed seventh at the University World Championships in Italy. He beat Bulgaria's Iliya Enev 3-0, 4-0 before falling to Iran's Sheyda Khangheshlaghi 4-0, 2-0.
"I wanted to win the tournament" said Rey, from Hopatcong, N.J. "I went out there and got pushed around by a guy who was a lot smaller than me. I underestimated him and he beat me with underhooks. He shouldn't have beaten me. That loss gave me a lot of fire going into the college season. I don't want to feel that way again."
Rey has done well in major freestyle events. He placed seventh in the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, downing 2010 NCAA champion David Zabriskie of Iowa State in the match for seventh.
He followed by winning the University World Team Trials.
"Absolutely, I will continue to wrestle in the freestyle events" he said. "I'm going to be working to make the World Team and the Olympic Team. I'm a competitor and I want to be the best. If I focus on freestyle, I can have some success in it."
For now, Rey's focus is on March's NCAA Championships in Philadelphia.
Rey was the No. 3 seed and reached the semifinals of the 2010 NCAAs in Omaha. He then fell to No. 2 seed and eventual runner-up Jared Rosholt of Oklahoma State. He rebounded to beat returning NCAA champion Mark Ellis of Missouri and returning NCAA runner-up Konrad Dudziak of Duke en route to placing third.
"I can't back off - I need to keep training hard" he said. "I can't take anybody for granted. You have to prepare for everyone and be ready to go every match. I need to keep my head on straight and keep doing what I'm doing. I'm in a good spot right now. I've wrestled a lot of the best guys and I've done real well. I won't be satisfied with anything less than a national title."
Rey is the nation's top returning finisher at heavyweight.
"There are a lot of real good heavyweights out there and Zach is aware of that" Santoro said. "Zach's scoring a lot more points this year and he's working hard for seven minutes. He's done a great job with his mental and physical preparation. He needs to keep working and continue to get better."
Rey grew up about a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
"It's awesome to have the tournament so close to home" he said. "I will have a lot of friends and family there to watch me. I can't wait. It's going to be fun."