Flames wrestlers hold their own vs. NCAA foes at Messiah
February 3, 2018 | Mechanicsburg, Pa.
Carrying confidence from capturing its third NCWA National Duals title last weekend at home, Liberty University's men's wrestling team turned in its strongest showing to date at Saturday's Messiah Open with six individual place-winners.
Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said with five NCAA Division schools and several DII and III programs in the tournament, the competition was much stronger than what the Flames had faced at the season-opening Messiah Invitational on Nov. 4, when they placed eighth.
"This is probably the best we've ever done in this tournament," Castro said, noting Liberty was one of four NCWA teams in the mix along with Rowan, West Chester, and UMBC. "No doubt about it, we were surprising a lot of people who were asking about our program. They didn't understand that, being a ‘club' team, we could be doing as well as we were."
Senior Austin Amos, who normally competes at 235 pounds, bumped up to heavyweight and wrestled to a 4-0 record en route to the 285-pound crown. He defeated Flames teammate David Smith by fall in 1 minute, 27 seconds in the semifinal match before upsetting American's top-seeded Niko Camacho by 4-1 decision in the final. Smith finished 3-2 to take fifth.
The Flames had the championship and consolation runners-up in the 174-pound weight class, with sophomores Sam Karel going 3-1 to place second and Luke Ely 4-2 to take fourth.
Karel, seeded second, got a bye to the second round before scoring an 8-5 decision over Pennsylvania's Ryan Farber and consecutive pins over UMBC's C.J. Ashby in 2:36 and Columbia's Donald Donnelly in 4:51 before losing to Penn State's Francisco Bisono by 14-6 major decision in the final.
Ely received a first-round bye before scoring a 15-2 major decision over York's Jordan Sciamanna. He won three consecutive decisions in the consolation rounds before dropping a 6-0 decision to Maryland's top-seeded Kyle Jasenski.
At 184, junior co-captain Josh McIlhenny went 4-2 to place fifth. He won two bouts by fall — his opener over York's William Amarant in 2:53 and his consolation quarterfinal over Franklin & Marshall's Reid Robillotto in 4:29—before earning an 8-3 decision over York's James Geer in the fifth-place final.
Junior Jacob Brooks went 3-3 and placed eighth for the Flames at 165.
No team scores were kept in the tournament that attracted 35 schools in all, but complete individual results are available online.
"We're not at our best yet, but we are definitely moving progressively toward that," Castro said. "We intentionally used this weekend as a training weekend to wrestle at a higher level. To feel that and expect that kind of battle is good preparation for our (Mid-Atlantic Collegiate) conference tournament." That event is set for Feb. 24 at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center, where the Flames will be shooting for their sixth straight MAC championship since joining the NCWA.
On Feb. 17, Liberty will travel back to Pennsylvania for a dual match at Muhlenberg College.
"I'm actually pretty excited about wrestling Muhlenberg in a dual match," Castro said. "That's a strong NCAA DIII program that we saw at the Citrus Classic. They scheduled us for their last match of the regular season to be a team that they could beat in front of their home crowd and we want to go up there and spoil their party."