Connect with us


Pioneers looking forward to season opener against VMI on Jan. 9

Sophomore Raf Lievano of Long Island, N.Y., works out in Fairfield with the Pioneers. (Photo courtesy Sacred Heart wrestling)

It has been a hard, hard year in 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the planet. And the sports world has been smacked hard with reduced schedules, modified rules and the cancellations of games and even practice in some sports.

At the collegiate level, wrestlers at Sacred Heart are practicing and have been for weeks. The Pioneers are preparing for their season opening match on Saturday, Jan. 9, against Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Va.

“The mood is great,” fourth-year head coach John Clark said. “We’re really excited. We’re here and we’re ready to go.”

The Pioneers plan to hold wrestle-offs on Saturday at the Pitt Center in Fairfield to help solidify their lineup for VMI.

Sacred Heart, Connecticut’s lone Division I program, has five dual meets on the schedule including three matches at home against Long Island University on Jan. 21, Bucknell (Jan. 24) and Hofstra (Jan. 29) before heading back onto the road against Bloomsburg on Feb. 7.

With the school’s current COVID-19 policy, there are no spectators allowed in the Pitt Center. The Pioneers will stream their home matches at

The Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA)’s 117th annual championship tournament is set for Feb. 26 at the Spooky Nook Sports Center in Lancaster, Pa. The six Ivy League schools in the EIWA – Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton and Penn — are not competing this winter.

Still, with COVID-19, everything is tentative, Clark said.

The Pioneers have been holding multiple practices throughout the fall to help keep the athletes healthy. If someone should test positive or be exposed through contact tracing, it minimizes the number of athletes that have to quarantine.

Sacred Heart has held up to seven practice sessions on a single day this fall, when one includes weightlifting sessions. This week, Clark and his staff are holding three practices.

“We have all of the COVID-19 protocols in place,” he said. All of the coaches and kids not actively wrestling wear masks in the wrestling room.

“We have a good team of doctors and university officials and we’re taking the guidelines and institutional ideas to keep our kids healthy,” he said. “Through all of this, we’re getting creative to figure out how to keep it safe and keep it a fun event.”

The fact that Sacred Heart’s men’s and women’s basketball and ice hockey teams are all playing games is a positive, Clark said. There have been cancelled games and postponed contests but the men’s basketball team (2-3) has played five games with four games each for the women’s basketball team (1-3) and men’s hockey (1-3) team.

“There are no promises (this season) but it only helps with other teams (on campus) that are playing,” he said.

The Pioneers have 45 wrestlers on the roster this winter. Including eight wrestlers from Connecticut. Newtown’s Anthony Falbo (174) and Danbury’s Shaun Williams (149) are seniors with Newtown junior Joe Accousti at 165 pounds. The Pioneers were 8-6 a year ago for their first winning season since 2004.

NOTE: While Sacred Heart is a member of the Northeast Conference (NEC) in most sports, they are members of the EIWA in wrestling.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

More in College