Courtesy of Cornell Athletics

Vito Arujau '24 departs East Hill as one of the most decorated Cornell wrestlers in history.

May 7, 2024

The Sun’s Male Senior Athlete of the Year: Wrestling’s Vito Arujau

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Following in the footsteps of Yianni Diakomihalis ’23 — one of the greatest wrestlers Cornell has ever seen — is a tall task, but senior Vito Arujau not only rose to the challenge but fully embraced it. As a four-time All-American, two-time NCAA champion and a world champion, Arujau stands as one of the most decorated Cornell athletes ever.

Vito’s dad, Vougar Arujau, wrestled for the Soviet Union and was a two-time world champion. Vito’s older brother, Nick Arujau ’15, followed their father’s legacy by wrestling for the Red from 2011-13. 

Hailing from Syosset, New York, Arujau said wrestling was “in the family business.” He grew up around his father’s wrestling gym in Long Island.

“[As] I grew up, we didn’t have a babysitter, so my dad would just bring me to wrestling practice and sit me on the side,” Arujau said.

While he spent his days around the gym, Arujau did not dabble in wrestling himself until fifth grade. 

“When I first started out, I was terrible,” Arujau said. “It’s not uncommon for you to start your kid in wrestling at the age of four, so by the time I started in fifth grade … [other] kids have had six years of experience.” 

However, with the support and guidance of his father — who emphasized perfecting fundamentals — Arujau was able to improve quickly.

“And then I kind of turned it into my own style and focused on the things I was good at,” Arujau said. “A lot of it was just getting my ass kicked until I figured it out.”

And “figure it out” he did, clinching four state titles while wrestling at Syosset High School and concluding his high school career with 173 consecutive wins. He won the United World Wrestling Cadet National freestyle title, earned a silver medal at the Cadet World Games, and gained a spot on the Junior World Team from 2017 to 2018. 

While Arujau saw offers pour in from several renowned wrestling programs, his decision to join Cornell was a “no-brainer,” due to its mix of athletic and educational opportunities. He was also inspired by his brother competing for the Red.

“Cornell has the best networking and would do the most for me in the long run,” Arujau said. “You get one of the best wrestling programs in the world, but also one of the best educations.” 

Arujau finished his freshman year by taking fourth at the 2019 NCAA Championships, earning first All-America honor and securing Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a spot in the All-Ivy first-team. 

These accolades are nothing to balk at, but Arujau said his performance was “a little bumpy freshman year.” He wouldn’t be completely satisfied with anything but that National Champion title.

But Arujau’s ambitions were put on stand-still when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the 2020-21 season was canceled. 

Taking two years off from college wrestling, Arujau said the pandemic “threw [him] for a loop.”

When he returned for the 2021-22 season, he finished third at the NCAA Championships to claim his second All-American citation. 

“I thought I had made a lot of improvements but took third at the tournament,” Arujau said. “It didn’t turn out to be the improvement I thought it was.”

Arujau’s junior year was a different story, as he claimed his first NCAA title with a 10-4 victory in the finals over two-time champion Roman Bravo-Young of Penn State and was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler at the championships. 

“In all the things that make you a champion, he progressed from year to year,” said head coach Mike Grey ’11. “His confidence, his maturity, his leadership skills all grew.”

Arujau then focused his ambitions on international accolades, not just representing the Red but the red, white and blue.

At the start of the 2023-24 season, Arujau attended the 2023 World Wrestling Championship and brought home gold for the United States in the 61kg category. 

Despite emerging victorious, Arujau admitted he was “very nervous” about competing at the world championship.

“[The win] was not guaranteed, whatsoever,” Arujau said.”I just had to constantly fight back and, ultimately, do the thing I do, which is wrestle.”

Grey said that Arujau’s win “speaks volumes to the level he’s at.”

“For context, there are 10 World Champions a year,” Grey said. “It’s at the highest level, competing against Olympians, and he was one of those 10 while he was just an undergraduate.”

However, the season took a nose-dive as Arujau faced a serious injury that compromised the first half of his senior season.

Fortunately, Arujau persevered and came out stronger at the other end in time to give his last NCAA Championship his all. He ultimately secured his second straight NCAA title at 133 pounds to become Cornell’s sixth multi-time national champion. He also helped Cornell take second overall at the NCAA championships, which has happened only a few times in Cornell history. 

“He dealt with a lot of adversity, especially this season, to get back out there to be with his teammates,” Grey said. “That says so much about who he is as a person and how much he cares about those around him.” 

Arujau concludes his time at Cornell with his name inscribed on most of the record books as one of the greatest wrestlers to don the Carnelian and White, both academically and athletically. Pursuing a degree in development sociology from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Arujau has excelled on and off the mat.

“His legacy is that he’s as good as he is [at wrestling] but also a quality student,” Grey said. “It’s unfathomable at times how good he is, and for him to be able to do that while also having to focus on his studies is amazing.”

While his titles stand as some of the most impressive Cornell has seen, Arujau’s team will remember him for his character. 

“He’ll be remembered for being such a great teammate, captain — somebody who put the team first, despite facing so much adversity,” Grey said. “That’s probably going to overshadow his accolades, and his accolades are already pretty impressive.” 

Arujau plans to bring his passion for wrestling to his career. Whether it be head coaching on the Division-1 level, pursuing a position on the coaching staff here at Cornell, or opening up a wrestling gym, he is ready to give it his all.

Arujau said he is proud of the legacy he’s left at Cornell, saying it was “the best [he] could have done retrospectively.” But Arujau is not ready to say goodbye to Ithaca just yet. 

“I’ll continue to train, continue to come into practice and help the guys out where I can, and just continue competing until the next Olympic cycle in 2028,” Arujau said. “I want to do what I can to give back to the community that we have here.”