Flames draw No. 1 seed for sixth NCWA National Duals
January 23, 2014 | Dalton, Ga.
Liberty University's wrestling team has been designated the No. 1 seed for this weekend's sixth annual National Collegiate Wrestling Association (NCWA) National Duals tournament in Dalton, Ga. The meet carries more weight than in previous years with a new scoring system that soon will be implemented by the NCAA as well.
Based on their finish, the 24 teams in the field will be awarded points toward the season-ending NCWA National Championships, March 13-15 in Allen, Texas, with the team champion earning 24 points all the way down to the 24th-place team picking up one.
"The fact that this event is now part of the national championship has changed the complexion of how coaches put their teams together," said NCWA Executive Director Jim Giunta, who compares the scoring system to NASCAR's Sprint Cup points chase. "Teams can win individual titles at the NCWA National Championships, but to win a team title, you almost have to be at the NCWA Duals and place in the top 10."
To determine the No. 1 through No. 24 placings, there will be a total of 64 dual matches wrestled from Friday morning to Saturday night at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center, with as many as 10 going on simultaneously in the early rounds.
Nine of the top 10 teams in the latest NCWA coaches' poll are represented in this weekend's 24-team field, traveling from as far away as Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Texas.
"It's a great event," Giunta said. "The people that come are excited bout it. It's gotten stronger every year and I think it will keep growing. The way this is structured, by the time you get down to 23 versus 24, they're all equally paired duals and all pretty exciting finals."
Liberty won the NCWA National Duals in 2012, its first season after being reclassified from NCAA Division I. Last year, as the fourth seed, the Flames upset top-seeded University of Maryland Baltimore County in the semifinals before finishing runner-up to second-seeded Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.), which has since moved up to NCAA.
Liberty went on to repeat its third-place showing at the NCWA Championships from 2012. However, had they received the 23 bonus points for their second-place performance at the National Duals, the Flames would have taken the national title. California Baptist, which didn't compete in the NCWA National Duals, held off Liberty by 15 points for the championship.
Therefore, Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro understands how important it is to have a strong showing this weekend.
"I think we're pretty hyped up for this," Castro said. "The new scoring system is definitely beneficial, especially when you consider we were only two points up on the fourth-place team (Lindenwood-St. Charles) last year and eight points behind the second-place team (McKendree)."
As the top seed, Liberty will meet the loser of a first-round match between No. 16 University of South Florida and No. 17 Southern Virginia University in its opening bout on Friday at 2 p.m.
The Flames had individuals compete against wrestlers from SVU, a Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) rival, at the Dec. 7 Turkey Bowl in Buena Vista, Va.
Other MAC members in the field include The Apprentice School in Newport News, seeded third, Middle Tennessee State (sixth), East Tennessee State (13th), Tennessee Temple (19th), and South Carolina (23rd).
Castro said the two toughest teams will likely be Shorter University, the No. 5 seed which is transitioning from NCWA to NCAA Division II, and second-seeded Grand Canyon University, which is moving up from NCAA Div. II to NCAA Div. I.
Assuming the Flames can sweep through Friday's first three rounds against lower-seeded teams, their first major opponent would likely be Mott Community College, the eighth seed, or ninth-seeded Marion Military Institute, in the fourth round, set for Saturday at noon.
Endurance will be a key factor in the Flames' success, as they would wrestle five matches to advance to the championship final or even more should they slip to the consolation rounds.
Contrary to previous years, when its lineup was top-heavy, Liberty's strength is in the middle- to upper-middle-weight classes, though it does feature a stalwart 133-pounder in freshman Ryan Diehl, who's 17-0 and has won three individual titles.
"We need to have a solid start in those lower weights," Castro said. "We've got to have some wins down there."
Other standouts include senior 197-pounder Aaron Thompson, who was a national champion in 2012 and runner-up last year; senior 184-pounder Royal Brettrager, who placed third at last year's nationals and is expected to return from knee surgery this weekend; junior 174-pounder Keyshaun Ward (9-2); freshman 165-pounder Josh Ferenczy (17-8); and junior 157-pounder Chase Boontjer (11-3).
Castro is hoping to drop sophomore heavyweight Josh Travers down to 235 pounds to serve as a set-up man for sophomore Zach Newton.
"Unfortunately, we don't have a closer like an Andrew Wilson," Castro said of last year's NCWA 235-pound national champion. "Whereas last year we were stronger up there, it's going to be interesting to see how we can close out these dual matches. We've got to learn how to handle pressure one way or another."