Flames strengthen lower weight class, rely on middleweights
August 16, 2013 | Lynchburg, Va.
Last year's Liberty University wrestling team, which finished runner-up at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association National Duals and repeated its third-place showing at the NCWA national tournament in Allen, Texas, was strongest at the top, with 235-pound senior Andrew Wilson capping his career with an individual national title.
This year, the middleweights will form the heart of the lineup for the Flames, who are loaded with seniors in the 157 through 197 weight classes, including Keyshaun Ward, a returning All-American at 174.
"Aaron Thompson (197) is stepping up as a team leader and it's good to have him back as a former national champion and defending national runner-up," Liberty head coach Jesse Castro said.
|Liberty head coach Jesse Castro has built upon a strong foundation of returning wrestlers with a talented recruiting class, ranging from light to heavyweights.|
Castro also strengthened the Flames' lightweight and heavyweight divisions through offseason recruiting efforts, receiving commitments from lightweights Jacob Cunningham and Tim Nordin, who attended Liberty's middle and high school camp in mid-July. Additionally, Peter Tatanish, a sophomore who came only a couple matches short of placing at nationals, returns at 141.
"The lower weights will help us out," Castro said. "That will make a difference."
Recent Liberty Christian Academy graduate Ike Podell could fill in nicely at 149, where former Bulldog teammate Marcus Miller started last year as a freshman before bumping up and finishing as a national runner-up at 157.
Other wrestlers coming in from LCA include middleweights Titus Glaze and Patrick Good, son of Bob Good, Liberty's Director of Athletics Development and the Flames Club who wrestled for the Flames as a senior in 1988 and helped reinstate the program at the Division I level in 2005.
The Flames also received commitments from Matt Reynolds, a 182-pounder from Chesapeake, and Rob Moretz, a 174-pounder from Pennsylvania.
Liberty will have a hard time replacing Wilson, who placed second in the nation at heavyweight as a junior before dropping down to 235 and capturing the ultimate prize. But the Flames picked up two promising heavyweights — Marquis Porterfield, who won an individual title to help Christiansburg claim its 12th consecutive VHSL Group AA team championship, and Zach Norton, a transfer from St. Andrews (N.C.) University.
"Obviously, they're not going to be at the level of an Andrew Wilson, but we've got some young talent to work with and we could be pleasantly surprised," Castro said.
His coaching staff will include three former Liberty wrestlers — Scott Clymer and Nick Knowles, who return from last year, as well as newcomer Miguel Rodriguez.
The Flames will have their first team meeting next Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in the Wiseman Wrestling Room with recruited and returning athletes as well as walk-ons.
"There will be plenty of kids I don't even know about," Castro said. "Coming back, I'm looking at about 22 kids. As far as newcomers, we could have anywhere between 12 and 20 kids. In all, last year we had a roster of 55 and who knows? We might be closer to that again."
He believes the recruiting success the Flames experienced this offseason is an indication that the program, while no longer Division I, is still very viable.
"Since we have been reclassified, the verdict was out as to what kind of program we were going to have," Castro said. "Some people didn't know that we still were going to have a program. To me, we're really on par with any Division II or Division III program in terms of our scheduling and our travel budget."
The Flames will open their 2013-14 season Nov. 4 at the Hokie Open in the Salem Civic Center. They will also travel to the Citrus Classic Invitational, Dec. 27 and 28 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the Virginia Duals at the Hampton Coliseum on Jan. 10 and 11 before competing in the NCWA National Duals, Jan. 24 and 25 in Dalton, Ga. Liberty will seek its fourth consecutive Mid Atlantic Conference Tournament title on March 1 at East Tennessee State in order to qualify for a return trip to the March 13-15 NCWA National Championships in Texas.
"I'm excited," Castro said. "I think we have a really challenging schedule this year."