It’s been 14 years since the Sacred Heart wrestling team has sent any wrestlers to the NCAA Division I championship tournament. This year, the Pioneers will send two.
Juniors Nick Palumbo and Joe Accousti earned NCAA tournament berths Friday at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association’s (EIWA) 117th annual tournament at the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Pa.
Palumbo became the first Sacred Heart wrestler to earn a spot in the EIWA final with his appearance at 157 pounds while Accousti finished sixth at 184 pounds, good enough to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament on March 18-20 in St. Louis.
There were 45 spots available in the NCAA tournament for wrestlers from the EIWA tournament, including the top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes.
Four other Sacred Heart wrestlers earned medals for finishing in the top eight of their respective weight classes. Robert Hetherman (197) finished sixth, one win away from a NCAA tournament berth, while Kyle Randall (133), Seth Brown (149) and Dante Delbonis (285) each finished eighth.
In the 10 previous trips to the EIWA tournament, no Sacred Heart wrestler had cracked the top eight – never mind earn a spot in an EIWA championship match as Palumbo did.
“I am real happy, happy for Connecticut and happy for our team,” Sacred Heart coach John Clark said. “This was amazing.”
Palumbo had a big move early in his 10-4 semifinal win over Drexel’s Parker Kropman, who was ranked No. 23 in the country in the latest coaches ranking. Early in the match, Kropman swooped in, grabbed one of Palumbo’s ankles and looked like he would get the first takedown.
But Palumbo continued to fight and got Kropman on his back to earn a two-point takedown, a four-point near fall and a whopping 6-0 advantage. That was just too much for Kropman to overcome.
“He had to beat a two-time national qualifier (Kropman),” said Clark. “(Nick) wrestled with such confidence. He has big moves and it was exciting to watch him wrestle. We couldn’t be more proud of him.”
In the finals against No. 22 Holden Heller, a 5-foot-11 junior from Hofstra, used his length and size to keep Palumbo at bay. Heller used his leverage to get a takedown on the edge of the match with 1:01 left in the second period for a 3-0 lead.
But a pair of escapes from Palumbo cut the lead to 3-2 in the third period. Palumbo had an opportunity for a takedown but couldn’t finish. In the resulting scramble, Heller tripped Palumbo to the mat for a second takedown in a 6-2 victory.
“Nick showed that he can battle with him,” Clark said.
Accousti, the junior from Newtown, had two tough bouts that came right down to the end – which is no surprise. His two losses this season were both one-point decisions.
Accousti dropped his quarterfinal match in a 3-1 overtime loss to Charles Small of Hofstra. In his first consolation match, Accousti battled long and hard with Bucknell’s Frank Guida before coming away with a 2-1 decision to earn his NCAA tournament berth. Guida was called for stalling with 1:19 left in the match.
“An overtime loss is tough. It can mess with you. But (Joe) did a great job coming back,” Clark said. “He did what he had to do.”
With his NCAA invitation secure, Clark decided to hold Accousti out of the fifth place match. Clark admitted that the decision wasn’t popular but he said, “There is something to be said for being healthy going to the national tournament. This is something I have been thinking about for a long time.”
Hetherman (197) fell one win shy of earning a NCAA tournament berth. After losing his first match of the tournament, Hetherman was tied with Bucknell’s Mason McCready early in the third period before getting an escape, a takedown and the benefit of McCready being called for stalling to take an 6-2 lead.
Hetherman prevailed with an 8-6 victory but got banged up in the decision – enough that he had to forfeit his fifth place bout. At 197, the top five finishers went to the NCAA tournament.
Sacred Heart finished eighth in the field of 10 teams with 39 points – the most they’ve scored in 11 trips to the EIWA tournament.
Lehigh, with four champions and five finalists, won the tournament for the fourth straight year, over Navy, 158½ to 129. Navy had five finalists and one champion while third place Army had five finalists and two champions. Lehigh’s Zack Hartman (165) was named the outstanding wrestler of the 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.
There were no fans in the building and it was the first time that the EIWA tournament had been held off campus. It was the first one day tournament since 1909.
The last NCAA qualifier for the Pioneers was Payam Zarrinpour in 2007. The last time that Sacred Heart sent two wrestlers to the NCAA tournament was in 2006 when the Pioneers were in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Sacred Heart’s most recent conference finalist was Zarrinpour at 285 pounds in 2007. He went to the finals four straight years at 285.
2021 EIWA championships
At Manheim, Pa.
Team results – 1. Lehigh 158½, 2. Navy 129, 3. Army 119½, 4. Hofstra 106½, 5. Drexel 89½, 6. Bucknell 84½, 7. Binghamton 75½, 8. Sacred Heart 39, 9. American 30½, 10. Long Island 24½
125: Jaret Lane (Lehigh) dec. Logan Treaster (Navy), 5-0
133: Malyke Hines (Lehigh) dec. Jacob Allen (Navy), 4-2
141: Cody Trybus (Navy) dec. Lane Peters (Army), 4-0
149: PJ Ogunsanya (Army) dec. Jimmy Hoffman (Lehigh), 8-3
157: Holden Heller (Hofstra) dec. Nick Palumbo (Sacred Heart), 6-2
165: Zach Hartman (Bucknell) dec. Tanner Skidgel (Navy), 9-0
174: Ben Pasiuk (Army) dec. Michael O’Malley (Drexel), 2-1
184: Lou Deprez (Binghamton)dec. David Key (Navy), 8-3
197: John Jakobsen (Lehigh) dec. JT Brown (Army), 3-0
285: Jordan Wood (Lehigh) dec. Robert Heald (Army), 6-0
Consolation finals (Third place)
125: Gage Curry (American) dec. Micah Roes (Binghamton), 6-2
133: Darren Miller (Bucknell) dec. Garrett Lambert (Hofstra), 5-0
141: Connor Mcgonagle (Lehigh) dec. Julian Flores (Drexel), 3-0
149: Luke Nichter (Drexel) dec. Greg Gaxiola (Hofstra), 6-2
157: Andrew Cerniglia (Navy) dec. Luca Frinzi (Lehigh), 10-1
165: Brian Meyer (Lehigh) dec. Evan Barczak (Drexel), 6-3
174: Tim Fitzpatrick (American) medical forfeit over Jake Logan (Lehigh)
184: Charles Small (Hofstra) dec. Taylor Brown (Army), 3-2
197: Jacob Koser (Navy) medical forfeit over Bryan McLaughlin (Drexel)
285: Zachary Knighton-Ward (Hofstra) dec. Joe Doyle (Binghamton), 7-2
125: Dylan Ryder (Hofstra) dec. Brandon Seidman (Bucknell), 6-2, OT
133: Mark Montgomery (Army) dec. Chandler Olson (Drexel), 16-3
141: Vinny Vespa (Hofstra) dec. Drew Witham (Long Island U), 6-1
149: Matthew Kolonia (Bucknell) dec. Michael Zarif (Binghamton), 3-2
157: Parker Kropman (Drexel) dec. Jaden Fisher (Bucknell), 6-5
165: Ricky Stamm (Hofstra) dec. Clayton Fielden (Army), 4-3
174: Jacob Nolan (Binghamton) dec. Vincent Andreano (Bucknell), 11-4
184: Dylan Ammerman (Lehigh) forfeit Joe Accousti (Sacred Heart)
197: Trey Rogers (Hofstra) medical forfeit Robert Hetherman (Sacred Heart)
285: John Birchmeier (Navy) dec. Sean O’Malley (Drexel), 3-2
125: Kyle Waterman (Drexel) dec. Ryan Chauvin (Army), 4-3
133: Anthony Sobotker (Binghamton) dec. Kyle Randall (Sacred Heart), 10-6
141: Kurt Phipps (Bucknell) medical forfeit Patrick Ryan (American)
149: Chris Gomez (Long Island) dec. Seth Brown (Sacred Heart), 8-3
157: Rhise Royster (Long Island) dec. Matt Swanson (Binghamton), 9-4
165: Ryan Ferro (Long Island) dec. Brevin Cassella (Binghamton), 3-0
174: Dean Caravela (Navy) medical forfeit Ross McFarland (Hofstra), 5-2, 5:03
184: Josh Stillings (Drexel) dec. Frank Guida (Bucknell), 3-2
197: Mason McCready (Bucknell) dec. Sam Deprez (Binghamton), 9-7, OT
285: Dorian Crosby (Bucknell) dec. Dante Delbonis (Sacred Heart), 16-4