Head coach John Clark and his Sacred Heart University men’s wrestling team has never been shy about wrestling the top teams in the nation.
A year ago, the Pioneers wrestled three top 25 teams including No. 2 Iowa. A year earlier, Sacred Heart wrestled No. 2 Penn State. And they see plenty of athletes from top 25 teams at the Journeyman Classic in Bethlehem, Pa., the Keystone Classic in Philadelphia and the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas.
Sacred Heart, Connecticut’s lone Division I wrestling team and one of just three D1 programs in New England, returns to the mat Saturday for a pair of dual meets at the Journeyman Classic in Bethlehem and then the Journeyman Collegiate Classic tournament on Sunday that includes six top 20 schools, including two-time defending NCAA champion Penn State.
“We always want to wrestle the best teams,” Clark said. “Who has wrestled Cornell, Iowa and Penn State in the last three years. We have another quality schedule. It’s really a good mix.”
Clark, who will begin his seventh season on the bench, wants to provide his wrestlers with opportunities to test themselves against some of the best wrestlers in the country. But he also wants opportunities for his team to win – something they have struggled to do in the past three seasons.
The Pioneers added matches with Morgan State University, Presbyterian College and Queens University of Charlotte while renewing a long-time rivalry with Davidson College and scheduling a match with Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for the first time since 2010.
Morgan State is back on the mat for the first time in 24 years, Presbyterian College is in their fifth varsity season while Queens is in their second season at the Division I level. SHU, which has an eight-match winning streak against Davidson, will face the Wildcats for the first time since 2020.
Sacred Heart is looking to snap a 22-match losing streak, the second-longest in program history, that dates back to November 2021. SHU beat American, 17-16 to open the 2021-22 season and then lost their final nine dual meets of the season. The Pioneers were 0-13 a year ago.
In 2019-20, Sacred Heart was 8-6 and in 2020-21, the pandemic-shortened season, the Pioneers had four wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Division I tournament.
“The last two years we’ve had a rough go of it but we’re never one to back down,” Clark said. “We’ve shown we can win here. It will be interesting to see what transpires this season.”
Clark will be putting a lineup out on the mat this weekend that should include six wrestlers from New Jersey and two from New York. They haven’t had a lot of success in terms of victories but most have some experience at the collegiate level.
Senior Andrew Fallon (133), graduate student Scott Jarosz (165) and senior Ryan Bolletino (174) each have double-digit wins at the collegiate level. Fallon is 16-12 with one year at American and one year with the Pioneers. Bollentino is 15-31 and Jarosz is 13-21.
Junior Jake Ice (Wilbraham, Mass.) and sophomore Mikey Mann (Hauppauge, NY) will be at 125 with senior Chris Naegele (151, Magnolia, NJ), junior Mike McGhee (149, Ocean Port, NJ), senior Brandon Teresa (157, Montville, NJ), sophomore Hunter Perez (184, Mount Olive, NJ), sophomore Jake Trovato (197, Lindenhurst, NY) and sophomore Marc Berisha (285, Mount Kisco, NY) expected to be in the starting lineup this weekend.
Fallon is from Fall River, Mass., Jarosz is from Roxbury, NJ and Bolletino is from Haddonfield, NJ.
On Saturday, Sacred Heart faces Long Island University at noon in the first round of WrangleMania in Bethlehem and faces Bloomsburg at 2 p.m. in the second round. No. 3 North Carolina State, No. 13 Arizona State and No. 25 Purdue are also competing.
On Sunday, wrestlers from No. 1 Penn State, No. 7 Cornell, Arizona State, No. 20 Lehigh, No. 22 Pennsylvania, No. 23 Lock Haven and No. 25 Purdue will be participating in the Journeyman Collegiate Classic.
Sacred Heart will face No. 3 North Carolina State on Friday, Nov. 17 in Albany, N.Y. at the Washington Avenue Armory at 8:30 p.m. The Pioneers will face Presbyterian College at 6:30 p.m. in round one. Virginia, Long Island University, Buffalo, Binghamton and Northern Colorado will also be competing.
There will be four matches going at once in round one and two.
Six Division III schools will begin competing on two mats from 10:30 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. at the Armory, including Castleton State from Vermont.
And hours after facing North Carolina State, Sacred Heart will be in Itacha, N.Y. to face No. 7 Cornell on Saturday. On Sunday, the Pioneers will be in Philadelphia for the Keystone Classic with wrestlers from No. 5 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Penn scheduled to compete.