Beating nationally ranked wrestlers is nothing new to sophomore Steve Santos.
In the first tournament of the season, the Bearcat Open, Santos defeated No. 13 Donnie Vinson in a tight match, edging out the Binghamton wrestler 4-3. While his match this past weekend at the Northeast Duals was also close, Santos ended up on top once again. Santos faced off against No. 11 Mario Mason, a 149-pound wrestler from Rutgers.
The two grappled back and forth in the first period with Santos giving up a takedown to Mason for two points, then escaping for a point to end the period 2-1. In the second period, the Scarlet Knight chose bottom and escaped to score another point, finishing the period with a score of 3-1, with Santos trailing two points behind. In the third period Santos chose bottom and escaped for a point, which wasn’t enough to catch up. Mason scored another takedown with about a minute left, making the score 5-2.
Though others may have given up at this point, Santos is used to coming back in the third period. “Being confident that I can win at any point in the match and wrestling hard for all seven minutes helps me win a lot of matches that I trail almost the whole time,” Santos said.
With a minute remaining, Santos saw an opportunity for points and scored a late takedown, tying up the score 5-5. Ending the match with a tie, however, wouldn’t cut it for Santos. Fighting for final points, Santos rode Mason in the remaining moments of the match. With five seconds to go, Mason tried to escape when Santos lifted him and brought him straight to his back for back-points and held him there to get the pin before the clock ran out. The pin secured Santos the win, 6-5.
Coming from a family of wrestlers, the young athlete’s skill demonstrated in the Rutgers competition has been developing for years. His father, who wrestled for Seton Hall, coached Santos early in his career, which started in kindergarten on the rec team. Santos also has three uncles who wrestled, and his entire family travels to competitions no matter where they are.
“It’s nice being part of a family who all loves wrestling and enjoys the sport,” Santos said. “It’s great to have support like that at all my matches.”
Before deciding on Columbia, Santos looked at several other Ivy League schools. Ultimately, Santos picked Columbia for its coaching staff, the wrestling program itself, and the overall atmosphere of campus.
Assistant coach Hudson Taylor is certainly happy to have Santos at Columbia.
“Every week Steve has been making the adjustments necessary to beat the best guys in the country,” Taylor said. “His match this weekend with Mario Mason was a perfect example of the progress he has made.”
“Santos is one of the top wrestlers in the country, so being able to work out with him on a daily basis is great,” partner and teammate Jake O’Hara said. “We have already learned so much from each other in the past year and a half and I’m sure that will continue.”
Santos continues to advance his wrestling skills and has already formed his long- and short-term goals in training. Santos aspires to become a national champion by the time he graduates, but by the end of this season, he at least wants to make it to the NCAA tournament and place to be become an All-American.
While Santos is one of the best wrestlers in the country, he still has some techniques and skills to develop. “The season is still very young,” Taylor said. “Steve has the ability to beat anyone in the country, but to do so he will need to continue correcting the little mistakes that have kept him from being an All-American. The coaching staff is confident that he is on pace to do just that.”
The wrestling team will travel to Las Vegas this weekend to participate in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational. The tournament is attracting 36 teams and is notorious for being extremely competitive. Many of the top wrestlers in the country will be there, giving Santos an opportunity to pin even more ranked guys. “We are expecting some big wins this weekend as the team is wrestling better than ever,” Taylor said. “In short, if they believe in their conditioning and technique and wrestle for a full seven minutes, then we will have a successful weekend and season.”
As he has shown, Santos is more than capable of wrestling for the full seven minutes.