UConn Club Wrestling: UConn set for nationals in Puerto Rico 

UConn Club Wrestling gets a chance to compete at Puerto Rico. Photo by Caleb Oquendo/Pexels.

UConn Club Wrestling is set to compete in San Juan, Puerto Rico this coming weekend for the NCWA Division II National title. The team will be sending 12 of their members down in hopes of bringing back some hardware, with 11 of those wrestlers being Connecticut natives. The team is coming off a trip to regionals in which they placed second overall and had all 12 of their members qualify for nationals. Many of the wrestlers are first time qualifiers, which includes a wide range of under and upper classmen. UConn hasn’t had a varsity wrestling program since the 1980s, this club team allows players to continue competing at a high-level while attending UConn.  

The trip itself will be special for the whole team, but especially for the upper classmen. UConn was ranked eighth last season in the National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) before getting their season suspended. COVID regulations impacted their ability to practice, so the team made the tough decision to keep their funds and resources, opting to hold only practices instead. UConn also lost their 2021 season due to the pandemic, marking this as their first opportunity for a national title since 2020. For wrestlers like Dan Veleas, this is their last chance to compete on the national stage.  

A Connecticut native, Veleas competed on the team for all four years of his eligibility and currently acts as one of the team’s officers. After losing the past few years of competitions, he expressed just how excited the team is for the opportunity to compete for the title. 

“It feels awesome. Everybody’s there working towards the same goals you are, we’re getting there together.” 

The team embraced the chance to compete this year and took advantage of it. This year’s total of 12 nationals-bound members is one of the highest turnouts the club has ever had.  

Club sports play an important role in these athletes’ lives, allowing them to continue playing the sports they love at a collegiate level. Many of the wrestlers on the team previously competed in wrestling either in high school or through regional clubs. Unlike a varsity team, anyone can join and participate in these teams. The team is available at the university’s involvement fairs, which is the main way they recruit their players. While club sports bring in a variety of personalities with different skill levels and experiences, they all hold one thing in common. 

“My teammate looked at me and said how everyone here loves wrestling. Everyone is here just for the love of the sport we’re playing.” 

Veleas commented on how the team itself has grown since he was a freshman. The Club Wrestling team has seen a steady stream of undergraduates that join the team and stick with it as well. UConn is currently experiencing a rise in involvement in this program, with more students participating and showing up on a consistent basis. 

“Club Sports are completely voluntary, you put in as much as you want to get out of it. Everyone here loves what they’re doing, and you see that in not just the tournaments, but the practices as well.” 

Club events such as this trip will make great memories for each member who participates, but the team is looking for much more than just that. Capturing the Division II National Championship would be a notable accomplishment, especially with the hardships the team has faced in the past few years. They’ll be taking on competition from all over North America with the same goal as them. UConn will focus on the factors they can control in their matchups, which hopefully will give them the advantage they need to win.  

While members like Dan Veleas are wrapping up their time on the team, many of the newer members look to maintain the success the program has accrued. When asked for some closing remarks, Veleas said: 

“As a team, we had a lot of success last week. We’re looking to build on that going forward.” 

The tournament starts on March 9 and will continue through the weekend, ending on March 11. All matches take place in the Puerto Rico Convention Center in San Juan. Head Coach Chris Warran and assistant coach Robby Hartling will look to lead the Huskies to victory. 

While the university covers some of the funding, the team still needs to raise some money for the trip themselves. They currently have a GoFundMe page set up to help with the costs of the trip and equipment. 

Leave a Reply