In its fifth season competing in one of the nation’s top college wrestling conferences, Hofstra is pinning hopes that a familiar stage will aid a strong finish.
Hofstra hosts the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association championships in early March, giving the Pride a chance to compete on the home Mack Sports Complex mats for a chance at making a loud statement against some of he more storied wrestling programs. The EIWA is the country’s oldest wrestling conference featuring top academic schools from the Ivy League and Patriot League including perennial powers Cornell and Lehigh.
“To host the oldest wrestling tournament in the country in front of our home fans is incredible,” said fourth-year head coach Dennis Papadatos. “We need to use that to our advantage.”
Senior heavyweight Michael Hughes gives the Pride hope for a presence on the EIWA podium and a deep run in the NCAA Championships slated for March 15-17 in Cleveland. Hughes redshirted last year in part because of a five-year program for his physical education major and was ranked seventh by InterMat Wrestling for 285 pounds after winning his first 15 matches. Papadatos said Hughes has a strong shot at becoming Hofstra’s first All-American since 2012 and serves as a strong example off the mat as well through his leadership with Hofstra’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
“Expectations are as high as can be for him,” Papadatos said of Hughes. “He is focused.”
Hofstra returned 10 starters from last year’s 6-11 team that went 2-6 in the challenging EIWA. Sophomore Sage Heller led the Pride with 23 victories at 174 pounds last year and got further battle tested over the summer by earning a bronze medal with Team USA at the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
“We have high expectations for him,” Papadatos said of Heller, a former three-time Illinois state qualifier from the Chicago area. “He has all the tools.”
Sophomore Vinny Vespa also shined during his rookie campaign after posting 18 wins and placing fifth in the EIWA Championships at 133 pounds last season. Other returnees who Papadatos is looking to strive for greatness include Ryan Burkert (149 pounds), Nezar Haddad (197), Cory Damiana (184), Bobby Fehr (165), Connor Burkert (141), Jacob Martin (125) and Connor Burkert (141).
“The goal at the end of the day is to get as many guys to the national tournament as possible,” said Papadatos, who was a two-time NCAA Championship qualifier for Hofstra. “I believe we have the ability and we have to believe that it can and will happen.”
The Pride closed their December schedule on a high note with a commanding 26-9 win against George Mason on Dec. 10 under the bright lights in the Theater at Madison Square Garden. The win put Hofstra at 3-4 in dual matches heading into a three-week break for final exams and the Christmas holiday.
Hofstra has a busy home schedule on tap for January starting with a 6 p.m. bout on the 12th against the Air Force Academy followed by two matches on Jan. 14 versus Bloomsburg and EIWA foe Binghampton. After facing Buffalo on Jan. 27, the Pride close the home schedule with league tilts versus Sacred Heart on Feb. 11 before back-to-back home matches on Feb. 17 against Brown and Harvard.