Two wrestlers that grew up in Connecticut will be on the mat Thursday morning as the 2021 NCAA Division I wrestling championships begins in St. Louis. And Connecticut’s lone Division I team, Sacred Heart University, will have two wrestlers in the tournament for the first time in 14 years.
Danbury sophomore Jakob Camacho of North Carolina State is the No. 6 seed at 125 pounds while Newtown senior Joe Accousti from Sacred Heart is the No. 33 seed at 184 pounds. Nick Palumbo of Sacred Heart also earned a spot in the tournament by finishing second at 157 at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships.
Palumbo, a junior from Andover, N.J., is seeded 24th in his weight class.
It will be the first NCAA tournament appearance for all three wrestlers. Camacho qualified a year ago for the Wolfpack but the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic that was beginning to sweep across the nation.
“We’re excited,” Sacred Heart University coach John Clark said. “Not only do we have two national qualifiers but we have one in the top 25.”
It’s a special time for collegiate wrestlers who get a chance to wrestle here. Since 2010, only seven Connecticut wrestlers have qualified to compete in this tournament.
Camacho (8-2), who has been ranked in the top 10 at 125 all season long, earned his berth to the tournament a year ago when he won the ACC championship. This year, Camacho has lost just twice – to Virginia Tech’s Sam Latona.
Camacho lost in the final seconds of the dual meet with Virginia Tech to Latona and lost in OT in the ACC Tournament finals. Camacho could meet No. 2 Latona in the semifinals. Camacho opens the tournament against Taylor Lamont of Utah Valley University, who finished second at the Big 12 championships.
North Carolina State, with nine wrestlers in the tournament, will be one of the contenders but Iowa and defending champion Penn State are the clear favorites. The Wolfpack will be looking for their second top five finish since 2018, when they were fourth.
Accousti, a former State Open and New England champion for Newtown High in 2017, will face No. 32 Jhaquan Anderson of Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina in the qualifying match at 184 pounds. It will be one of the first matches of the tournament on Thursday morning. The winner advances to face top-seeded Aaron Brooks of Penn State (9-0) in the first round.
Anderson (9-2) was third at the Southern Conference tournament while Accousti (5-4) was sixth at the EIWA championship meet. Two of Accousti’s four losses this year have been by one point and the third loss was in OT.
“Joe brings a level of consistency,” Clark said. “He has wrestled every single match for us and he has been competitive in every match. He has been someone you can rely on in all facets of the sport.”
Accousti wrestled two years at Appalachian State, earning 31 wins before transferring to Sacred Heart in 2020 when he went 15-13.
Palumbo (5-3) will face Purdue’s Kendall Coleman in , the No. 9 seed, his first round match. Coleman, a sophomore, finished fifth in the Big 10 and brings a 11-3 record into the tournament. For Coleman, it is his second straight year with a top 10 seed.
“Nick has big talent,” Clark said. “He is a New Jersey state champion and he brings experience (to the mat). He has big moves and it is exciting to watch him wrestle.”
The last Connecticut wrestler to earn All-American honors at this tournament was Danbury native Kevin Jack, who finished sixth at 141 pounds in 2018 for North Carolina State.
The last Sacred Heart wrestler to win a match in the tournament was heavyweight Payam Zarrinpour in 2007, when he finished seventh. Zarrinpour is the program’s only All-American wrestler.
Fans are aren’t allowed in the Enterprise Center building due to COVID-19 precautions but ESPN once again plans end-to-end coverage of the event. A limited number of tickets was distributed to the schools participating in the tournament.
Coverage begins Thursday on ESPNU at 10 a.m., with prime-time sessions scheduled for ESPN and ESPN2. The finals on Saturday will be broadcast on ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. Additionally, every mat will be available for viewing on ESPN3 via the ESPN App.
Recent Connecticut qualifiers
|The following Connecticut natives have qualified to wrestle in the NCAA DIv. I tournament over the last 11 years, since 2010.|
|Jakob Camacho (Danbury)||North Carolina St.||2020, 2021|
|Joe Accousti (Newtown)||Sacred Heart||2021|
|Kevin Jack (Danbury)||North Carolina St.||2015*, 2016, 2017*, 2018*|
|Doug Vollaro (Somers)||Lehigh||2017|
|Patrick Gillen (Shelton)||Virginia||2016|
|Jack McKeever (Brookfield)||Binghamton||2015, 2016|
|Dominick Malone (Granby)||Northwestern||2014, 2015, 2016|
|Richard Perry (Middletown)||Bloomsburg||2012, 2013, 2014|
|Brandon Williamson (Greenwich)||West Virginia||2010, 2012|
|*Earned All-American honors|
How to watch
|Thurs. March 18||11 a.m.||First Round||ESPNU||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|2 p.m.||First Round||ESPNU||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|6 p.m.||Second Round||ESPN2||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|9 p.m.||Second Round||ESPN2||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|Fri. March 19||11 a.m.||Quarterfinals||ESPNU||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|3 p.m.||Semifinals||ESPNU||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|8 p.m.||Semifinals||ESPN||8 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|
|Sat. March 20||11 a.m.||Medal Round||ESPN2||4 mat feeds, 1 “multi-view” feed|