Bellarmine University wrestling joins Southern Conference as associate member

Courtesy of Bellarmine Athletics – link

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bellarmine University’s presence in the Southern Conference just got a little bigger.

On Tuesday, Bellarmine Director of Athletics Scott Wiegandt announced that the Knights wrestling program has joined the SoCon as an associate member. Bellarmine now has two teams with ties to the SoCon, as the Knights lacrosse squad has been a member of the league since 2015.

“We are excited to add Bellarmine University as an associate member in the sport of wrestling,” SoCon Commissioner Jim Schaus said. “We look forward to this new aspect of our relationship with this quality institution.”

“We couldn’t be more pleased that our wrestling team has become an associate member of the Southern Conference,” Wiegandt said. “We already have a built-in relationship with the SoCon through lacrosse, and that bond has now strengthened through wrestling. The SoCon is a first-class league that shares Bellarmine’s values toward the student-athlete experience.”

The 2020-21 school year will mark Bellarmine’s first with all 22 of its athletics teams competing at the Division I level (lacrosse officially began DI play in 2006). With Knights wrestling joining the SoCon, each team at Bellarmine is now a member of a DI conference.

“It feels great to have a new home for our program,” Bellarmine Wrestling Coach Spencer Adams said. “As everyone knows, you are who you surround yourself with, and I think we are surrounding ourselves with other great programs by joining the SoCon. It seems like a perfect fit for us in every way.”

The wrestling programs in the SoCon include Campbell, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Gardner-Webb, VMI, The Citadel, Davidson and Presbyterian.

“The SoCon is nationally recognized, last year having two top 25 ranked teams, yet it still has that small family feel to it,” Adams said. “For a conference of less than 10 teams to have some of the best in the nation hitting the mats each year is impressive. So far, my interactions with the other coaches have been positive, and they seem excited about the future and where we’re going as a conference. They have also been very welcoming and are looking forward to having us join forces with them in growing the SoCon to an even higher level. On another note, traveling into the mountains and heading to the coast for a few duals a year doesn’t seem like a bad deal either!”

Bellarmine’s wrestling program is still young. Its inception came in 2016, and the Knights are making the leap to DI after four years in DII. After four total duals wins the first two years, Bellarmine amassed 15 the last two seasons. In the third year, Gage Branson (149) and Brandon Lucas (125) earned berths in the NCAA Championships. This past season, the Knights were nationally ranked in the top 25.

In three Great Lakes Valley Conference seasons, Bellarmine collected seven All-GLVC accolades and eight GLVC Wrestler of the Week acknowledgements along with two team James R. Spalding Sportsmanship Awards. The Knights have amassed 11 NWCA Scholar All-American honors.

“Just a few years ago, we started building this program from the ground up, and we were able to take some big strides forward in a short amount of time,” Adams said. “This past year we had three guys (Branson, Eric BeckZach Larue) who were in the top 15 nationally for falls in the NCAA and several guys that were nationally ranked along with a top 25 ranking as a team. We also received an invitation and competed at the NWCA National Duals. I think one of the advantages we have as a team is that we’re used to the grind and have had to earn every accomplishment the hard way. I’m proud of what the guys have been able to accomplish so far and even more proud of them for the fashion in which they’ve done it. For the past two years in a row, they were awarded the conference sportsmanship award and have continuously improved their overall team GPA each year. Winning means nothing if you can’t do it the right way.”

It didn’t take long for Bellarmine to establish itself in DII, and the Knights hope to do the same after the rise to DI.

“Clearly, the challenge will be much more difficult at the DI level, but I feel confident that our guys will adapt and grow to face any challenges that come their way,” Adams said. “We are certainly taking a step up but, in time, we will make our name known on this stage as well. One thing holds true across every level of competition: hard work and dedication doesn’t go unnoticed. The guys are excited and they can’t wait to get back to work.”

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