The road to St. Louis and the 2021 NCAA Division I wrestling championships has been mapped out for the Sacred Heart University wrestling team and other Division I teams across the country.
The NCAA’s wrestling committee announced Thursday how many automatic berths to the national championship tournament will be granted to the respective Division I conferences.
Now, the Pioneers and other Division I teams know what they need to do at the upcoming conference championship meets to secure an automatic bid to the Division I tournament.
Sacred Heart is a member of the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA), which will host their 117th annual conference tournament on Friday, Feb. 26, in Manheim, Pennsylvania, at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex.
The top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes at the EIWA championships will earn a berth to the Division I championships. The top four wrestlers at 149 and 285 pounds will qualify along with the top five wrestlers at 157, 165, 174 and 197 pounds. The top six wrestlers at 184 pounds from the EIWA will move on to the NCAA tournament.
Forty-five wrestlers from the EIWA and the Big 12 will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the second largest allotment. Only the Big 10 has more with 76 automatic qualifiers.
“We wrestle in the second-best conference in the country,” Sacred Heart coach John Clark said.
Navy is ranked No. 20 in the country and Binghamton, Lehigh, Army and Hofstra are each receiving votes in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.
The NCAA wrestling committee based their automatic bid selections on the historical average of bids at the respective weight classes over the past five years (2016-20).
“The committee knew that there wasn’t going to be enough regular-season competition to utilize the existing process where wrestlers earned pre-allocations (automatic bids) for their conference based on regular season performance,” said Karen Langston, senior associate athletics director at California State University, Bakersfield and chair of the wrestling committee. “The way it worked out has opened more at-large spots this year (64) for deserving wrestlers who don’t qualify through their conference tournament.”
Sacred Heart is looking for their first individual NCAA bid since 2007 when Payam Zarrinpour went to the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Zarrinpour earned All-American honors by finishing seventh at 285 in 2007.
“Our biggest goal is to get a national qualifier (to the NCAA tournament),” Clark said earlier in the season. “It is on everyone’s radar.”
The Pioneers wrestled five dual meets this season and the two Pioneers with the most wins are redshirt juniors Nick Palumbo (157) and junior Joe Accousti (184) of Newtown. Both went 3-2. Both of Accousti’s losses were by one point.
Due to the limited number of matches during this pandemic season, the EIWA will wrestle off for fourth place at 149 and 285 pounds and for sixth place at 184 since they are for NCAA tournament berths.
For other Connecticut wrestlers, North Carolina State sophomore Jakob Camacho (125) will need to finish among the top three at the upcoming ACC tournament on Sunday, Feb. 28 on the N.C. State campus to earn a NCAA tournament berth for the second straight year. Camacho (6-1) is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Camacho won the ACC Tournament a year ago and earned a trip to the 2020 NCAA Tournament but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
Other state wrestlers who have been in the starting lineups this year include Winsted freshman Devin Matthews, who was 3-5 at 133 pounds for Long Island University, who will compete at the EIWA championship meet and Danbury freshman Tyler Johnson (1-5) at 141 pounds for George Mason University.
The 2021 NCAA Division I tournament will be March 18-20 in St. Louis.
Automatic qualifiers from EIWA
Top 3 finishers: 125, 133 pounds
Top 4 finishers: 149, 285 pounds
Top 5 finishers: 141, 157, 165, 174, 197 pounds
Top 6 finishers: 184 pounds