photo courtesy of NJCU athletics
Friday morning the New Jersey City University’s Gothic Knights men’s wrestling team will take the mat for the first time during the school’s intrasquad. NJCU is offering men’s and women’s wrestling for the first time in the 2020-21 season. Additionally, the NJCU women’s team is the first collegiate program in the state to sponsor the sport for women. The women’s squad is led by 2012 World Champion and two-time Olympian, Elena Pirozhkova. Harry Turner, a Lock Haven grad that most recently spent time as Rutgers’ Director of Recruiting and Player Development, heads up the men’s team. Turner’s team consists entirely of New Jersey natives and features eight student-athletes with prior collegiate experience. He also has a full staff that includes Nick Gravina, Jason Ecklof, Ryan Budzek, and Jake Gunning.
With girls’ high school wrestling still in its infancy in New Jersey, Pirozhkova has had to look outside of the Garden State’s borders, ever so slightly. Two of her eleven wrestlers hail from somewhere other than Jersey. As the sport grows at the high school level for girls, it’s not hard to imagine the Gothic Knights locking down all of the talented young women in the state. As it stands now, the NJCU women’s team has a pair of 2020 state finalists on the roster, Johnae Drumright (109) and Sandra Guerrero (191). Drumright was a runner-up at 107 lbs, while Guerrero took the title at 215. Barry Hart will assist Pirozhkova in year one.
There are plenty of potential stars on the men’s roster with the most immediate impact possibly coming from senior Rob Cleary. After redshirting the 2017-18 campaign, Cleary notched a 17-14 record for the Broncs and saw action in four duals. As a freshman, he defeated Princeton national qualifier Pat D’Arcy. Going back to high school, Cleary was a two-time state medalist, finishing third in 2017. Other state placewinners on the Gothic Knights roster include Kyle Hillermeier and Jeff Johnson. Hillermeier is a transfer from Delaware Valley, while Johnson comes to Jersey City by way of Sacred Heart University. NJCU’s men’s team will compete at the Division III level.
Coach Turner had this to say about his team’s upcoming debut, “We’re excited to show the New Jersey wrestling community the team we’ve been able to assemble and train in this unprecedentedly difficult time for the sport. I personally am also looking forward to finding out how this group responds to bright lights and competition simulation as we move into our first official season.”
New Jersey City University’s intrasquad can be found on the Takedown Sports App Friday, December 11th at 11AM eastern.