With an eye toward March and the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships, Hofstra wrestling head coach Dennis Papadatos has mapped out a rigorous tourney schedule to try and achieve a big presence on the podium stage.
The ninth-year coach Papadatos is looking for the Pride to significantly improve on last year's 12th place finish in the 17-team EIWA tournament with nine starters back led by two-time NCAA qualifier Zachary Knighton-Ward. The 2000 Hofstra graduate, who competed on the mats for the program he has now led for nearly a decade, set up challenging slate of early-season tournament-style matches with competition at the Cliff Keen-Las Vegas Invitational, the Southern Scuffle, the Journeymen Collegiate Classic and the Black Knight Invitational versus the nation’s top wrestlers.
“I wanted to make sure our high echelon guys received those important national ranking RPI matches so I put together what I think is by far the hardest tournament schedule of any team in the country,” Papadatos said. “Those guys have wrestled a lot of high-end competition already.”
Papadatos has high hopes for a number of his grapplers competing for EIWA titles and then competing for All American finishes in the NCAA Championships including Knighton-Ward (285 pounds) who placed sixth in the conference tourney last year. The graduate student from Uniondale was an NCAA qualifier the last two seasons and also qualified as an at-large selection in 2020 before the season was suddenly canceled by the onset of the COVD-19 pandemic.
Redshirt senior Trey Rogers is looking to return to the NCAAs after qualifying in 2021. Senior Justin Hoyle, a EIWA Championships placewinner, also has potential for a postseason run.
“His training has been unbelievable,” said Papadatos of Hoyle, a Maple Valley, Wash native who wrestled at Wyoming Preparatory Seminary Upper School in Pennsylvania. “The plan is for him to be wrestling in the last event of the year at the national tournament.”
In addition to Knighton-Ward, Rogers and Hoyle, Papadatos has high hopes for Joe McGinty, who won nine matches at 157 pounds last year. Redshirt sophomore Ross McFarland (174), graduate student Jacob Ferreira (184), an NC State transfer, also could earn NCAA Tournament spots.
Hofstra has seven Long Islanders on the roster including Oyster Bay High School graduate Michael Leandrou, who won eight matches as the starter at 149 pounds as a sophomore last season. Leandrou transferred to Hofstra from American University in Washington D.C.
Former Wantagh High School standout Matt Rogers, who previously competed for the U.S. Naval Academy Preparatory School, also returned to his backyard to compete on the mats. Rogers, who won a New York State championship in 2020, captured first place at 174 pounds at the Nassau Open tourney held Dec. 11 at nearby Nassau Community College.
Another local product on the roster is Eric Shindel of Merrick, who earned All-County honors at Bellmore-JFK in 2020 and 2021. Shindel placed fourth in the Nassau Open at 157.
“He's already over delivering on expectations we had for him and he still has three and a half-years left in his career ,” Papadatos said of Shindel, who red-shirted last season but won three matches as an unattached wrestler at 149. “He has come a long way.”
The Pride will kick off its dual meet schedule on Thursday evening against EIWA opponent American at 6 p.m. Hofstra will also have conference home matches versus Franklin & Marshall on Jan. 21 at 4 p.m. and Drexel on Feb. 5 at 1 p.m. The EIWA Championships are slated for March 4 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.