Flames nab individual title, team-best second place at NCWAs
March 15, 2014 | Allen, Texas
Liberty University wrestler Ryan Diehl capped off a phenomenal freshman season as an undefeated 133-pound national champion, helping the Flames hold on for a second-place team showing at Saturday's NCWA National Championships at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas. He also received the NCWA's Wrestler of the Year award.
|Liberty 133-pound freshman Ryan Diehl was named NCWA Wrestler of the Year.|
The second-seeded Diehl upset Massachusetts Institute of Technology's top-seeded, undefeated, defending national champion senior Sam Shames, 15-10, to finish his first year of collegiate wrestling at 34-0. As the Flames' only championship finalist, he needed to win to allow Liberty (171.5 points) to hold off third-place Shorter University (162.5) and finish runner-up to national team champion Grand Canyon University (254.5).
"It was an amazing day," Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said. "It's been like a roller coaster."
Liberty had seven wrestlers reach the championship quarterfinals after Thursday's opening day of competition, but Diehl was its only representative in Saturday's championship final.
Flames' 141-pounder Colin Lewis, junior 157-pounder Chase Boontjer, junior 174-pounder Keyshaun Ward, and senior 184-pounder Royal Brettrager each grappled back through the consolation bracket to capture third place individually.
"There was a lot of disappointment in terms of losing so many semifinal matches," Castro said. "It was a gut check. They just kind of regrouped and kept things in perspective. I'm glad they stepped up to the plate."
After being knocked out of the championship bracket with a loss in the quarterfinal round, Lewis won three consolation matches on Friday, the last two by major decision and technical fall. On Saturday, the first-year graduate student who last wrestled for Liberty as a sophomore competing at the NCAA Division I level, pulled out three tight decisions to emerge as the consolation champion.
Lewis edged Georgia Southern's Joshua Gaspard in the consolation quarterfinals, North Florida's Chad Baumann 4-2 in the semis, and Texas A&M's Austin Souders 3-2 in the final.
Boontjer, who placed seventh at last year's NCWA tournament to help boost the Flames to third place, escaped with a 3-2 victory in his second consolation match Friday against The Apprentice School's Patrick Foxworth before winning three more decisions in Saturday's wrestlebacks. He defeated William & Mary's returning All-American Austen Brower in a rematch of their Mid-Atlantic Conference final. Then, in the consolation semifinal, Boontjer earned a 15-6 major decision over Montana Western's James Peterson before edging Central Washington's Nick Bendon, 4-3 in the final.
At 174, Ward, the No. 1 seed, repeated his third-place performance from last year's tournament. Ward scored a 9-3 decision over Navy Prep's Robert Manier in the semifinals before taking Shorter's second-seeded Dalton Lane to overtime before finishing him off with a fall in 6:53.
Brettrager capped his career with a second-straight third-place showing and, like last year, picked up bonus points with back-to-back pins along the way. He decked Army Prep's Jack Wedholm in 3:23 before sinking Navy Prep's Jadaen Bernstein in 2:46.
Also at 184, Liberty freshman Matt Reynolds, who lost an 11-1 major decision to Wedholm in his sixth consolation match of the tournament — and first on Saturday — bounced back to earn All-American status by pinning Middle Tennessee State University's Jonathan Roberts in 1:38 of the seventh-place final.
Liberty 197-pounder Aaron Thompson, who captured a national title in 2012 and placed second last year, finished fourth as a senior. Thompson, who like Brettrager battled back from offseason surgery, started Saturday's consolation competition by scoring an 18-7 major decision over Auburn's Carl Brown in the semifinals before coming up on the short end of a 3-2 decision in the third-place final against Grand Canyon's Marcus Haughion.
At 149, Liberty sophomore Peter Tatanish, who lost his championship semifinal by 7-4 decision to Grand Canyon's top-seeded Mike Hamel, dropped another tight match in the consolation semis, falling to Air Force's Robert Walker, 3-2. Tatanish had scored a 7-3 decision over Walker in Friday's championship quarterfinals.