Hofstra unveiled new banners in a Dec. 5 ceremony commemorating the university’s only wrestling national champion and 30 All-Americans that fifth-year head coach Dennis Papadatos hopes inspires future grapplers to aim for the sky.
One of the new banners hanging on the eastern portion of the Mack Sports Complex honors Nick Gallo, who won the 126-pound national title in 1977. A separate banner lists all of Hofstra’s All-Americans with space intentionally left for future honorees.
“I want the guys to know the high goals we have as a program,” said Papadatos, a 2000 Hofstra graduate and two-time NCAA Championship qualifier. “I wanted the space to add names so that they know this is the expectation.”
Hofstra graduated heavyweight All-American Michael Hughes, but 125-pound freshman standout Dylan Ryder gives the Pride major hope for a national splash. Ryder won the 2017 106-pound New York State Championship for Half Hollow Hills West and then later captured a title at the High School Nationals to cap off a 41-1 junior year.
“He gets better every day,” Papadatos said of Ryder, who posted a 13-3 major decision over 12th-ranked Rico Montoya of Northern Colorado on Dec. 5. “He has that un-teachable ability of always wanting to improve.”
Ryder is part of a talented freshman recruiting class that includes two Midwest phenoms in 184-pounder Trey Rogers and 149-pounder Holden Heller. Rogers captured a Minnesota state championship as a senior and Holder was a three-time third place finisher in Illinois.
Heller’s older brother Sage is among Hofstra’s leading returners. The 174-pound junior posted a 12-7 mark in dual meet matches as a sophomore following a summer in which the bronze medal for Team USA during the 2017 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
“He has had some extreme highs but also had some lows as well,” said Papadatos of Heller, who is 8-7 on the young season while battling back pain. “When he is on fire he scores some big wins and pins.”
Heller is one of four captains along with senior Ryan Burkert (149 pounds), redshirt senior Nezar Haddad (197) and junior Jacob Martin (125.) Haddad ranked second on the team with 19 victories last season and has recorded 37 in his Hofstra career since transferring from Drexel. Burkert and Martin both recorded 10 victories.
Hofstra competes in the nation’s oldest wrestling conference, the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association, which features top academic schools from the Ivy League and Patriot League. Eighth-ranked Cornell and 20th-ranked Lehigh, the defending EIWA champions, make the league one of the toughest in the nation.
“Our conference keeps getting better,” Papadatos said. “You have to be on your ‘A’ game every match.”
Hofstra’s next home matches are slated for Jan. 26 at noon against Rider and then at 7 p.m. versus EIWA foe Bucknell. The final home match is Feb. 22 against George Mason at 7 p.m.
Beyond wins and losses, Papadatos has set high goals for his wrestlers in the classroom. The team has a combined grade point average of 3.0, which Papadatos said should translate into future success on the mat for the program.
“Winners win in everything they do including academics,” he said. “I’m excited to bring people here who have the right mindset.”