Sacred Heart University’s men’s wrestling team awaits their opening match against American University on Saturday, Nov. 6.
After finishing the 2021 season with two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship qualifiers, Head Coach John Clark is coming back for his fifth season with the Pioneers. A significant difference from his past four years in coaching is that the 2021-2022 season will welcome the largest amount of recruits, both freshmen and transfers, that the Sacred Heart wrestling program has ever seen, with 30 total recruits.
“These numbers are unprecedented, and that falls right in line with the unprecedented results that we’re looking to accomplish,” said Clark. “I couldn’t be happier to have a roster of 75 student-athletes.”
When Clark took over the program in 2017, the Pioneers finished with a record of 2-10. Between 2019 and 2021, the Pioneers have had eight team wins and eight team losses, and as a result of the large recruitment, Sacred Heart now has the biggest Division 1 (DI) NCAA roster in the country.
“He (Clark) is always working so hard to make sure that everyone is improving,” said freshman Jake Carlucci. “Whether it be a simple phone call or advice at practice, Coach Clark is always trying his best to obtain a close relationship with each wrestler and make sure that we are all working to achieve our goals.”
Carlucci is among the 30 new recruits, and his ability to adjust to the atmosphere of a DI program is credited to the leadership and work ethic of his older teammates.
“These upperclassmen work so hard to get to where they are, and I’m using that as motivation to push myself to get to their level,” said Carlucci. “Being a freshman means I have to prove myself and earn the respect of my teammates, and I want to do that on and off the mat with my hard work.”
Senior Nick Palumbo was one of the athletes that competed at the NCAA championships in 2021, and as a veteran, Palumbo has seen both sides of winning and losing.
“Since I got here three and a half years ago, we have improved astronomically due to the hard work of Coach Clark and my teammates,” said Palumbo.
In his 2021 campaign, Palumbo made the jump from the 149 weight class to the 157 weight class, where he tallied three wins in the shortened season. He plans on using the talent he has on the mat to encourage the new slew of recruits coming in this season.
“I found the best way to lead is by example. I am putting in extra work, staying positive and just sharing advice when needed. I believe that if the younger guys see what I am doing while having success, then they will follow,” said Palumbo.
The second matchup for the Pioneers will be against Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), a team that finished second overall in the NCAA championships in 2021 while also having four individual champions, according to bigten.org.
“We are competing with the best teams in the nations this year, and I expect this team will rise to the occasion,” said Palumbo. “We’re going to surprise a lot of people this year, so make sure you’re watching.”