Flames look to defend title at National Duals in Georgia
January 17, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
After capturing its first NCWA National Duals championship last winter, Liberty University's wrestling team will seek to defend its title this Friday and Saturday at the Georgia State Trade and Convention Center in Dalton, Ga.
Liberty is seeded fourth out of a field of 24 teams, with the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Lindenwood-St. Charles, and Central Florida the top three seeds, respectively.
The Flames defeated Lindenwood 25-15 in last year's championship bout, its eighth match in the two-day event.
Head coach Jesse Castro approaches this weekend's double-elimination tournament with muted optimism following the Flames' fifth-place showing in the Virginia Duals in Hampton, which concluded with a 35-18 loss to Central Florida.
"We're definitely not favored," Castro said. "Our goal is to win it, but if we can get into the top four … " he would consider it a respectable showing.
"We could meet UMBC in the semifinals, hopefully, if we can get that far."
The other 20 teams in the national field are Auburn, East Tennessee, Georgia Southern, Grand Valley State, Lindenwood-Belleville, Marion Military Institute, MIT, Mercer University, Middle Tennessee State, Penn State-Fayette, Tennessee Temple, The Apprentice School, Cincinnati, Georgia, North Florida, South Carolina, and South Florida.
"It'll be probably comparable to what we competed against (in Hampton)," Castro said. "Only there are more teams, so it will involve more wrestling, and a lot longer road (to the finals)."
The Flames started last weekend's Virginia Duals with a 26-17 upset of top-seeded Roger Williams, the top-ranked team in the New England NCAA Division III coaches poll and 25th-ranked team overall in NCWA Division III.
However, they lost their last two matches to Steven's Institute and UCF without starting 133-pounder Ryan Miller, who will undergo a second MRI on a recurring shoulder injury.
Compounding that loss, a trainer's disqualification of Liberty 141-pound wrestler Josh Sanders, who was suspected of having a concussion following his match Friday night but later cleared, gave UCF the momentum it needed in the lower weights.
"We got caught behind the 8 ball and we couldn't get out from behind it," Castro said. "We just can't cut a break. At the lower weights, we are so thin right now."
He is hoping freshman Marcus Miller can drop down from 157 to 149, which would allow Peter Tatanish to drop from 149 to 141 before the March 2 Mid-Atlantic Conference Tournament, which the Flames will host.
"I hope and pray we can get Ryan back at 133 and Marcus down at 149," Castro said. "If we can do that, we're going to be tough to beat. I really think if we can get that lineup, we'll be really competitive at the (NCWA) National Championships in March."
Without the Millers (no relation) where he wants them this weekend, Castro said the Flames likely will have to rally from behind to win every match they can.
"It's going to be tough to win some of these matches without some wins in the lowerweights," he said. "It will be nice having Chase Boontjer, a national qualifier, back in the lineup at 157. (But) we're going to have to score bonus points in the upperweights. We're going to have to win by pin, or technical fall, and beat opponents by eight points or more for major decisions. We need bonus points."
Keyshaun Ward went 2-0 at 174 and fellow juniors Royal Brettrager (184) and Aaron Thompson (197) and senior Andrew Wilson (285) each finished 3-0 in Hampton. Alternate 174-pounder Jonathan Perkins only lost by a 5-3 decision to Steven's Institutute's Joe Fabia, who's ranked third in the country in NCAA Division III.
"Royal, Aaron, and Andrew were all dominant, actually," Castro said. "They're the three on our team that have Division I experience and it's pretty obvious."