As Dennis Papadatos dives into his sixth season as Hofstra’s wrestling coach, he sees signs of progress with the program he hit the mats for 20 years ago.
The 2000 Hofstra graduate’s efforts to foster a championship mentality in Hempstead are beginning to come into fruition with the potential for multiple All-Americans on a roster featuring stronger depth than in previous years. This season’s team is the first one comprised solely of wrestlers Papadatos recruited providing a chance for him to establish a winning foundation of young men who buy into his philosophy of shining on and off the mat.
“At the end of the day I want guys competing on the final day of the national championships,” said Papadatos, who recorded 95 career victories during his collegiate wrestling career at Hofstra two decades ago. “We feel we have the guys that can get it done.”
Among the returning wrestlers who have a chance for a breakthrough season are 125-pound sophomore Dylan Ryder and red-shirt junior Ricky Stamm, who wrestled at both the 165 and 174-pound weight classes last year. Stamm, who placed seventh in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) Championships at 174 last year, is off to a 4-0 start at 165 while Ryder is working his way back from an early-season injury after going 23-13 as a freshman.
Sophomores Holden Heller (157) and Trey Rogers (197) are also poised for big seasons after making strides during their first year competing on the collegiate wrestling level. Red-shirt juniors Vinny Vespa (141) and Sage Heller (174) are fueled for larger heights after battling injuries last year.
Newcomers emerging early on as possible future All Americans include 184-pounder Charles Small, a Florida native who arrived at Hofstra a season removed from capturing a junior college national champion at Northwest Kansas Technical College. Red-shirt freshman Zachary Knighton-Ward has shined at 285 pounds and nearly knocked off second-ranked heavyweight wrestler in a 9-8 loss to Arizona State’s Tanner Hall at the Cliff Keen-Las Vegas Invitational.
Freshman 149-pounder Reece Heller is off to a promising start to his Hofstra journey with a 4-1 record following a standout high school career in which he was a three-time Illinois State Championship qualifier. He is part of a trio of Hellers on the Hofstra roster along with his older brothers Sage and Holden.
“They feed off each other,” said Papadatos of the Holden brothers. “They are close, but also very competitive.”
Hofstra, which began the dual meet season with a 24-12 win against Air Force on Nov. 21, began a stretch of eight-straight home matches in early January. The long homestand is highlighted by hosting ACC foe North Carolina State on Jan. 18 new local Division I program Long Island University on Jan. 26.
The Pride will also host EIWA matches against Franklin & Marshall and Columbia on Feb. 1. After a road tilt at George Mason, Hofstra returns to the Mack Sports Complex for another EIWA doubleheader beginning at 11 a.m. versus Harvard and Brown. The regular season concludes at home against EIWA opponent Sacred Heart on Feb. 22 at 2 p.m.
The EIWA Championships are set for Lehigh University on March 6-7 where Hofstra will seek a strong showing that produces a number of qualifiers for the NCAA Championships in Minneapolis two weeks later. Papadatos is hoping to make history with Hofstra’s first individual EIWA champion since the Pride joined the nation’s oldest collegiate wrestling conference for the 2013/14 season.
“If you win a EIWA title you are ready to be an All-American,” Papadatos said. “You are basically automatically going to be seeded in the top eight at nationals.”