The Sacred Heart University women’s wrestling team has had a strong start to their season, going 2-2 in their first tournament in Adrian, Mich. on Nov. 12 and 13. The tournament was highlighted by a 24-19 upset victory over fourth-ranked McKendree University in a weekend that also saw the Pioneers have two individual podium finishers.
“I’m very pleased with the results,” Head Coach Paulina Biega said. “We were the underdog there but quickly showed that’s not necessarily the case.”
Biega has brought the program success since her appointment at the beginning of the Pioneers inaugural season last year, making her the first female Division I wrestling coach ever. Three of her wrestlers received All-American honors in the National Collegiate Women’s Wrestling Championship (NCWWC) which saw now-sophomore Madison Sandquist place third.
The match against McKendree was only one part of the Adrian Open. SHU had two wrestlers—freshman Aaliyah Payne-Parris and sophomore Alexandra Fitzgerald—finish second in their respective weight classes.
“I am proud of my finalists,” Biega said. “It always makes me happy to see my girls succeed.”
In terms of their individual performances, Biega’s faith in her wrestlers stands out.
“I strongly believe Aaliyah can beat the girl she lost to,” said Biega. “Ally got caught in her final match and wrestled against a very tough opponent. If we constantly keep working on getting better and evolving her technique, I think she can be on the highest step of a podium very soon.”
Biega also had praise for her team’s performance as a whole.
“We fought hard,” Biega said. “Every match we had we scrapped to our best ability and I like that the most. We didn’t give up without a fight.”
On Nov. 18, the team traveled to the Missouri Valley College Open in Marshall, Mo. They had success on Friday, with five Pioneers moving onto the second day of competition. Fitzgerald continued her strong performance with an eighth-place finish and three victories on Saturday.
Despite the fact that women’s wrestling is still newer to the campus community, the team has continued to click as a group in a way that has contributed to them getting positive results.
“The girls are becoming closer and closer which makes our team stronger,” said Biega. “They support each other but at the same time push each other to do better. It’s simply fun being around them.”
The few tournaments that the Pioneers have competed in so far are only the beginning of a lengthy season where they look to improve on their successes from last year.
“The most exciting thing is always to see the progress that the team makes,” Biega said. “I know where we started and how we looked at the beginning and I know how I want us to finish. That’s what I’m excited to see.”
SHU’s next tournament is Dec. 3, where they will travel to Gannon, Pa. for the Northeast Region Duals. Going into the weekend, Biega wants her team to look back on their previous performances to keep improving.
“There were some matches that we lost that we should have won,” said Biega. “We will learn from there and do better. The future is very, very bright.”
Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.