Pat Lugo reflects on 2019-20 wrestling season, Hawkeye career

Pat Lugo did not get the storybook finish to his career that he had hoped for, but he won’t let that define his character or his career.


Nichole Harris

Iowa’s 149-pound Pat Lugo grapples with Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso during the final session of the Big Ten Wrestling Tournament in Piscataway, NJ, on Sunday, March 8, 2020. Lugo won by decision 2-1, securing the 149-pound championship, and Iowa won the team title with 157.5 points.

Austin Hanson, Assistant Sports Editor

After a long day of practice, a short walk is all that stands between Pat Lugo and the comforts of his apartment. On March 12, the short stroll from Carver-Hawkeye Arena proved to be agonizing.

At practice, Lugo had learned that the NCAA was forced to cancel its 2020 Division I Wrestling Championships as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic continued to grow. The senior’s season and career were both taken away from him.

“To be honest, I didn’t really feel it until I left Carver,” Lugo said. “I remember walking back to my apartment from Carver. It’s usually a quick walk, like a five-minute walk. I would stop and think. I felt a lot of emotions there. A couple tears were shed. I felt a little down. I wanted to be alone after that.”

Lugo is a Homestead, Florida, native, and wrestled for two seasons at Edinboro in Pennsylvania before becoming a Hawkeye. As a senior, he rose to the top of the 149 pound weight class and was the top seed at that weight going into the NCAA Championships.

Coming off of a Big Ten title March 8 in Piscataway, New Jersey, Lugo had all the momentum with him going into the biggest meet of the season.  He didn’t get to carry that momentum out.

“I told [Lugo] point blank, with very much emphasis placed on it, what he means to our team, what he continues to mean to our team, and how big a part he was in all this,” head coach Tom Brands said. “I told that to all our seniors, even the ones that weren’t in the lineup. I told [Lugo] that very directly and didn’t beat around the bush. I told him that two or three days after the NCAA canceled. Then, I told him two or three days later that he’s not going to get another year left, count on it.”

The NCAA decided to give its spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility March 30. It did not extend the same offer to winter sport athletes like Lugo.

“You tell [the athletes] their value,” Brands said. “You tell them their part in this. It doesn’t mean there can’t be an appeal process. The word had already been out that it just wasn’t going to be in the cards for the winter sports. Now that the announcement has been made, you can maybe attack it a little bit and go on the appeal process.

“You tell [the athletes] they’re equipped to handle this stuff. They couldn’t have imagined anything like this. We talk about being bulletproof or close to bulletproof. You can handle these things as they come your way and they sideswipe you. If anybody can handle it, Pat Lugo can.”

RELATED: Hawkeye wrestling denied ending to dominant 2019-20 season 

As his coach suggested, there could be an appeal process for Lugo, giving him a glimmer of hope to hang on to his collegiate career.

“Honestly, it doesn’t feel like it’s over for me, yet,” Lugo said. “It hasn’t really hit me. I mean it hit me a little bit, but it hasn’t really hit me hard. I still feel like I’m going to be on the team next year, because I really am. I mean, I’m still going to be around the guys and around the coaches. If there is a way I can appeal, I definitely will. I guess I’ll have to look more into that.”

Along with other wrestlers across the country, Lugo has been outspoken regarding the NCAA’s decision.

Minnesota’s heavyweight Gable Stevenson and Wisconsin’s 141-pounder Tristan Moran have also been critical of the NCAA’s ruling.

“You hear all these things about money issues, ‘It wouldn’t be fair,’ this and that,” Lugo said. “They got to find a way to figure this out. I can only say what I can say. I got to live with the decision they made. I just got to look at the positive side of it. Be stronger because of this. Be better because of this.

Lugo has thought about a contingency plan for life after collegiate wrestling should he lose an appeal to the NCAA.

“I definitely want to keep wrestling,” Lugo said. “I feel like I’m not done yet. I feel like I’m just getting started, honestly. I just started to figure this whole winning thing out. I want to join the Hawkeye Wrestling Club moving forward. I might go to grad school, I might not. I haven’t really looked into that yet. We’ll see, I’m just trying to live in the moment right now. I definitely have a plan in the back of my head.”

The decision to continue wrestling is likely a good one for Lugo. Overall as a senior, Lugo had the best season of his career. He went 21-1, capturing a Midlands title and a Big Ten title. His only loss came to Ohio State’s Sammy Sasso at Carver on Jan 24. Lugo went on to avenge his loss to Sasso in the 149-pound title bout at the Big Ten Championships.

Lugo’s previous bests were a 23-9 overall record, a fourth-place finish at Midlands, a third-place finish at Big Tens, and an eighth-place finish at NCAAs.

“You have to find peace in your season,” Lugo said. That’s what I’ve been doing. I grew so much this year. I’m not going to let [COVID-19] define my season. I’m not going to let it define who I am. I look back on the good things I did this year. I’ll watch the Midlands final. I’ll watch a couple of dual meets like Penn State. Big Ten finals, I’ll watch that. That’s what happened this year. That’s me finding peace. That’s me accepting what happened and moving forward.”

Moving on won’t be easy for Lugo. He believed he was due for an NCAA title this year, and he likely will never get another chance to win one.

“I would’ve won,” Lugo said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I would’ve won this year. I had a couple dreams. I would dream the whole tournament out. I would make finals, celebrate with my family after. I had it all written out, almost like a book. I’m just reading a book in my head. Every word I read happens.”

When reflecting back on his career as a Hawkeye, Lugo won’t look at the bad. COVID-19 won’t stop him from remembering the good times he had on and off the mat with his teammates. He won’t forget how being a Hawkeye changed him.

“When I look back, I’ll look at the times that stuck out to me the most,” Lugo said. “I’ve never been part of a team like this. I’ve never been on a team where like all the guys think the same. All the guys train hard. That’s what makes it more heartbreaking that this whole thing had to come to an end like this. It always comes to an end, but it came to an end like this? That’s crazy.”

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