By John Napolitano - SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
Former two-time NCAA Division I National Championship qualifier and new head coach of the Hofstra wrestling team, Dennis Papadatos, looks to work hard, develop new talent, and parley the team’s determination and optimism into a run for a spot in the national tournament.
In the transition from last season to this season, the Hofstra Wrestling Team bid farewell to seven key veterans of the squad in David Heitman, Jermaine John, Cam Tessari, Zeal McGrew, Jamie Franco, Luke Vaith and Joe Booth.
Eight accomplished freshmen have since joined the team, but there is a considerable loss of experience in this transaction. “There is huge toll in overall experience on the team. Not only are we losing six or seven veterans, but three or four of them were ranked Top 15 in the nation,” explained coach Papadatos.
The three most notable losses were Vaith, Booth and Franco, who went a combined 87-32 last year. The trio had plenty of NCAA tournament experience between them, with 10 total NCAA qualifications.
Despite the disadvantages that come with losing three great wrestlers, Papadatos said that there are some positives in this changing of the guard. “The departing seniors learned a lot from the old regime,” he explained. “I have the opportunity to teach different things to all of these young, moldable minds.”
The newest warriors on the Hofstra wrestling team include Cory Damiana, Bryan Damon, Bobby Fehr, Aaron Hartman, Connor Muli, Michael Oxley, Travis Passaro and Demetrius Zissimos.
When asked how the team looks as a whole thus far, coach Papadatos commented, “We just finished our pre-season so it’s hard to tell this early, but we definitely have a lot of talent.”
The Pride is going to need to utilize every ounce of that talent in order to compete this season, as they have extremely tough competitors. Lehigh University, Sacred Heart University, Columbia University and Princeton University, to name a few, are all out to curb the progress of the Pride.
The matches will be especially challenging considering it has been years since the Pride has gone up against a number of these teams, but Papadatos assured that would not be an issue.
“I know teams like Lehigh and Sacred Heart very well, that’s my job,” Papadatos said. “In fact, I’ve recruited most of their players over the years.”
When asked about his game plan for each respective opponent, Papadatos said, “We’re not going to change our approach for each match; we will prepare, but the game plan will not change.”
Some of the Pride’s standout returnees include Jamel Hudson, Cody Rugirello and Jahlani Callender. Both players are promising redshirt sophomores with potential to emerge as leaders of the Pride’s relatively inexperienced roster. After struggling in the Eastern intercollegiate wrestling association (EIWA) last year, Papadatos hopes to return to prominence as one of the NCAA’s most successful programs.
Coach Papadatos is proud to be a part of the wrestling team’s rich history. His plan for his the Pride this year is to expand capabilities, finish in the top three of the EIWA, and ultimately secure a spot in this year’s national tournament.