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Sacred Heart ready to chase NCAA bids at Friday’s EIWA championships

Sacred Heart’s Robert Hetherman (197), right, aces off against Long Island earlier this season. Hetherman and the Pioneers will be at the EIWA championships on Friday. (Steve McLaughlin photo courtesy Sacred Heart Athletics)

It’s been 14 years since the Sacred Heart University wrestling team sent a wrestler to the NCAA Division I national championship tournament.

Fifth-year head coach John Clark hopes this is the year to end that the Pioneers end that long drought.

Sacred Heart and nine other schools will be competing in the 117th annual Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championship tournament on Friday in Manheim, Penn., at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex – the first time that this event won’t be held on campus.

“It’s a unique situation to say the least,” Clark said. “It is a wonderful opportunity for some of our wrestlers to get to St. Louis (home of the 2021 NCAA championship meet).”

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.

Normally, there are 17 teams in the EIWA but Franklin and Marshall and the six Ivy League schools (Cornell, Princeton, Brown, Harvard, Columbia and Pennsylvania) did not compete this winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

American University will be at the EIWA championship meet but has yet to wrestle anyone this season.

“They realize that the nice thing is that if you don’t lose twice, you’re going to nationals,” Clark said.

The last Sacred Heart wrestler to qualify for the NCAA tournament was Payam Zarrinpour at 285 pounds in 2007 when he qualified at 285 pounds for the fourth straight season. The Pioneers were members of the Colonial Athletic Association at that time.

On paper, the two Sacred Heart wrestlers who have the best opportunities are Newtown junior Joe Accousti at 184 and Nick Palumbo at 157. Both are 3-2 on the year. The top six wrestlers qualify at 184 pounds with the top five wrestlers earning a NCAA bid at 157.

But even with a smaller field than usual, it won’t be easy with five of the top seven teams returning from a year ago including No. 18 Navy, which went 5-1 in this pandemic-shortened season. Binghamton, Hofstra, Lehigh and Army each received votes in the latest National Wrestling Coaches Association poll.

The opportunity is there. The Pioneers have to earn it on the mat. None of the Pioneers are favored to win an individual EIWA championship and the key to earning a NCAA championship berth may lie in wrestling well in the consolation round where the Pioneers will have to wrestle with clarity and intensity.

Few collegiate wrestlers have more than five bouts this season and quarantines due to contact tracing or positive COVID tests shave disrupted practice schedules all season so there may be more upsets than usual.

“It’s the second-best conference in the nation,” Clark said earlier this season.

The Big 10 got the most individual bids to the NCAA Tournament with 76 while the EIWA and the Big 12 each received 46 bids to the 2021 championship meet.

Sacred Heart freshman Jordan Carlucci (2-3, 141 pounds), senior Will Schmidt (2-3, 165), junior Robert Hetherman (2-1, 197) and senior Patrick O’Donnell (0-1, 174) each will each need to finish in the top five in their respective weight classes to qualify.

Freshman Cole Meyers (0-1, 125) and sophomore Kyle Randall (0-3, 133) need to finish in the top three to qualify while sophomore Seth Brown (0-2,149) and junior Marc Blokh (0-3, 285) will need to finish in the top four to advance to St. Louis.

The tournament will be broadcast live over FloWrestling. Live bout results will be on FloSports Arena. The tournament begins at 10 a.m. with wrestling on four mats. Session two begins at 2 p.m. with the championship matches set to begin at 5:30 p.m.

It will be the sixth one-day tournament in league history and the first since 1909 at Yale.

Lehigh is looking for their fourth straight EIWA championship but they will pushed by No. 18 Navy, which returns two EIWA champions. The Midshipmen have a veteran team and a pair of freshmen who haven’t lost a match yet this season. Navy lost won an EIWA title in 1990 while Army last won in 1987.

A few wrestlers to watch from each weight class:

125 (3 bids): American’s Gage Curry (125) is a three-time NCAA qualifier but has yet to wrestle this winter. Navy’s Logan Treaster (9-1) is ranked No. 25 in the country in the latest coaches ranking.

133 (3 bids): Bucknell’s Darren Miller (4-1) is the highest ranked EIWA wrestler in the latest coaches rankings at No. 23. Drexel senior Chandler Olson (4-1) was 15-4 a year before a season-ending injury. Long Island’s Devin Matthews, the freshman from Gilbert in Winsted, is 3-5 on the season for the Sharks and should compete.

141 (5 bids): Navy’s Cody Trybus (9-0) is the defending EIWA champion and is ranked No. 10 in the country. No. 25 Binghamton’s Zach Trampe (3-1) moves up from 133 where he was a two-time NCAA qualifier.

149 (4 bids): Army junior P.J. Ogunsanya (6-0) is ranked No. 19 in the country and already owns a win over No. 18 Casey Cobb (8-1) of Navy. American’s Kizhan Clarke was ranked in the top 10 of the season in 2020. No. 30 Hofstra’s Greg Gaxiola, a transfer from Fresno State, is a former NCAA qualifier.

157 (5 bids): Sacred Heart’s Nick Palumbo is in a talented weight class. No. 14 Markus Hartman (5-1) of Army is the top ranked wrestler but he was pinned by No. 20 Holden Heller (5-0) of Hofstra. No. 21 Parker Kropman of Drexel is 4-0 while No. 26 Andrew Cerniglia (5-0) of Navy is just a freshman.

165 (5 bids): Two-time EIWA champion Tanner Skidgel of Navy returns and is the favorite. He is 9-1 but he will be challenged by No. 7 Zach Hartman (6-0) of Bucknell. Hofstra’s Ricky Stamm (5-0) and Binghamton’s Brevin Cassella (4-0) are undefeated.

174 (5 bids): There are several contenders here. Drexel sophomore Michael O’Malley (5-0) is No. 15 in the country while Binghamton’s Jacob Nolan (4-0) is undefeated. Navy senior Dean Caravela is 7-3 while American’s Tim Fitzpatrick was eighth at 165 a year ago in this tournament.

184 (6 bids): Six wrestlers earn bids but it will be tough to earn victories in a deep class. No. 4 Binghamton’s Lou DePrez is the defending champion and a two-time NCAA qualifier. No. 18 David Key (7-0) of Navy is undefeated while No. 32 Army senior Taylor Brown is 4-2. Sacred Heart’s Joe Accousti is 3-2 but both of his losses were one-point decisions.

197 (5 bids): No. 19 John Jakobsen (4-3) is a two-time EIWA medalwinner and an NCAA qualifier. He already owns a win this year over No. 20 J.T. Brown of Army (5-1). No. 16 Jacob Koser (4-2) of Navy and No. 21 Bryan McLaughlin (4-1) of Drexel are also ranked in the latest coaches poll.

285 (4 bids): Three-time defending EIWA champion Jordan Wood of Lehigh is looking to become the first heavyweight to win four consecutive EIWA titles. Wood is ranked No. 7 with a 4-1 record. Likely challenges should come from No. 24 Navy sophomore John Birchmeier (5-0), No. 29 Bobby Heald (3-2) of Army and No. 33 Zachary Knighton-Ward (4-2) of Hofstra.

2021 EIWA dual meet standings

Team EIWA Overall
Navy 2-0 5-1
Drexel 1-0 2-1
Lehigh 3-1 3-4
Binghamton 2-1 3-1
Hofstra 1-1 2-1
Army 2-3 2-3
Long Island Univ 1-4 1-4
American 0-0 0-0
Sacred Heart 0-1 0-2
Bucknell 0-1 0-3

 

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 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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