You could hear the competitiveness in the voice of Sacred Heart wrestling coach John Clark.
Clark was discussing his team’s 30-9 loss to Virginia Military Institute in the season opener on Jan. 19 in Lexington, Virginia. It’s a team that the Pioneers beat a year earlier by that same 30-9 margin.
Two forfeits, which gave VMI a quick 12 points, didn’t help the cause of the Pioneers. One positive test for COVID-19 resulted in eight members of the Sacred Heart program to quarantine due to contact tracing, including two wrestlers penciled into the starting lineup.
While Clark lamented a defeat, he celebrated the fact that the Pioneers got on the mat and opened the season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hofstra cancelled their season opener with No. 28 Lehigh earlier this month while No. 2 Penn State and No. 14 North Carolina have also cancelled dual meets due to COVID-19.
“We’re never going to cancel a dual (meet) but I can’t guarantee I can put a full lineup out there,” he said. “I would rather lose than cancel the dual. We don’t want to lose. It’s not fun to lose 30-9. But I can’t cancel when these kids are trying to wrestle.”
Sacred Heart (0-1) has just five dual meets on the schedule this season, including their home opener on Wednesday when they host Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) rival Long Island University at 6 p.m. in the Pitt Center.
No spectators are allowed in the Pitt Center but the match will be streamed online through NECFrontrow.com. While Sacred Heart is a member of the EIWA in wrestling, the school is a member of the Northeast Conference (NEC) in a majority of their varsity programs.
To ensure that the Pioneers will have enough wrestlers eligible and healthy to compete, Clark and his staff have been holding up to seven practices a day for his team.
Wrestlers work out in small groups so in the case of a team member testing positive for the virus or having to quarantine due to contact tracing, it won’t force a large number of athletes to sit out and cancel a match.
“It’s exhausting but we look around the country and they’re cancelling matches like crazy,” Clark said.
The Pioneers have a full lineup set to go on Wednesday night.
Sophomore Sean Faraon (125), junior Ryan Burns (141), sophomore Seth Brown (149), junior Nick Palumbo (157), redshirt freshman Scott Jarosz (165), senior Will Schmidt (174) and Newtown junior Joe Accousti (184) are scheduled to get their second starts of the season.
Sophomore Kyle Randall (133), junior Robert Hetherman (197) and junior Mark Blokh (285) are set to hit the mat for the first time this season.
This is just the second season at the Division I level for Long Island, which was 2-21 last year.
Freshman Devin Matthews, who wrestled for Gilbert School in Winsted, may start at 133 for the Sharks. He dropped a 6-4 decision on a late takedown on Saturday against Binghamton’s Anthony Sobotker.
Matthews’ brother, Kyle, is also on the Sharks and is 0-5 at 149 pounds. He did not wrestle Saturday against Binghamton. Freshman Carson LiCastri (197) is also on the Long Island roster but has yet to participate due to injuries.
NOTES: The Sharks wrestled for five seasons at the Division II level after the program was reinstated in 2015. The wrestling team is located at LIU’s campus in Brookville, once home to C.W. Post, which had a Division II wrestling program from 1956-88. Long Island has two campuses in Brookville and Brooklyn.
In 2018, Long Island announced they would merge the athletic departments at LIU-Brooklyn and LIU-Post into one Long Island University program that would compete at the Division I level in the Northeast Conference beginning in September 2019. LIU-Post’s programs were competing at the Division II level.
Long Island University (0-1, 0-1 EIWA) at Sacred Heart (0-1, 0-0 EIWA)
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 20
Time: 6 p.m.
Watch: NEC Front Row.com
Series: Began 2020. Sacred Heart leads, 2-0
Most recent match: VMI beat Sacred Heart, 30-9; Binghamton beat Long Island, 32-6.
Last year: Sacred Heart swept a pair from the Sharks, 26-12 and 36-6