A new season begins on Saturday for Sacred Heart wrestling team when the Pioneers travel to Washington, D.C. to take on American University.
A new chapter begins for the Sacred Heart women’s wrestling team who will become the second NCAA Division I school in the country, and first in New England, to put a varsity team on the mat Sunday at the East Stroudsburg Open.
It is the opening weekend of the collegiate wrestling season – a welcome sight after a pandemic-shortened season a year ago that saw limited wrestling and no NCAA national tournament at the Division III level.
Coast Guard, which was ranked No. 2 in the country in Division III for a time last season, hosts WPI on Saturday in New London in their season-opening contest.
“It’s awesome,” Sacred Heart men’s coach John Clark said regarding the start of the season. “I couldn’t be happier. With our schedule, it is amazing how it all worked out. It’s an awesome way to start the season.”
Clark is looking to continue building momentum with Sacred Heart this winter. Last March, the Pioneers had two wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time since 2007 and both – Newtown’s Joe Accousti (184) and Nick Palumbo (157) – will be back this season.
Clark didn’t want to reveal his starting lineup before Saturday’s bout but said they should have eight seniors and a pair of juniors in the lineup.
Competition is intense in Fairfield with 74 athletes working out with the team. One weight class had an eight-man bracket to wrestle off for a spot in the varsity lineup with several weight classes with six-man brackets to wrestle off.
“We want to have a winning record (this season), send more wrestlers to the nationals than before and improve our placement in the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association),” Clark said.
Sacred Heart’s last winning season came in 2020 when they Pioneers went 8-6. Sacred Heart finished eighth out of 10 teams in the pandemic-reduced EIWA last February – their best finish since they joined the league in 2012.
It will be a challenging schedule for Sacred Heart. They face No. 2 Penn State for the first time on Nov. 13 in Manheim, Penn., and will be competing at the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia and the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas along with seven EIWA matches.
The first of two home matches will be Saturday, Dec. 18, when the Pioneers host Binghamton at 1 p.m.
Sacred Heart will be facing American for the first time since 2007 on Saturday beginning at 6 p.m. at Bender Arena. The match will be streamed on ESPN3. American, led by first-year coach Jason Borrelli, is hosting No. 28 Virginia immediately afterward at 7:30 p.m.
Borrelli was the long-time coach at Stanford (13 years) but left when the school said they were eliminating the program. Stanford reconsidered and reinstated wrestling and 10 other varsity programs last spring.
Sunday will be a historic day for Sacred Heart women’s coach Paulina Biega when the Pioneers make their varsity debut at the second annual East Stroudsburg Open at Koehler Fieldhouse.
Sacred Heart is one of two schools wrestling at the Division I level. Presbyterian College in South Carolina is the only other school in the country currently competing at the Division I level.
Three women from Connecticut are in the starting lineup for the Pioneers – Southington’s Ashley Reed (191), Bridgeport’s Jacklyn Smith (170) and NFA’s Savannah Vanase (136).
Two wrestlers from Texas will be on the mat for Sacred Heart with Khadijah Sanusi from Houston at 155 pounds and Madison Sandquist of Humble, Texas at 143. New York’s Tays Pascual will also be at 143 for the Pioneers.
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Berlin’s Nicholas Arborio (125) of Western New England University is ranked No. 1 in the country at 125 pounds in Division III in recent preseason rankings released by the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA).
Arborio went 30-5 for Western New England with eight pins, five tech falls and six major decisions two years in 2019-20, the last full year of collegiate competition. He won the NCAA Division III Northeast Regional in February 2020.
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Coast Guard is ranked No. 11 in the NWCA Division III preseason poll. Paul Detwiler is ranked No. 2 at 184 with Phil Rogers sixth at 165 and A.J. Pagliarulo ranked No. 10 at 141. … Wesleyan’s Marco Gaita (174) begins this season where he left off two years ago in 2020, ranked No. 7 in the country in Division III.