Wrestlers fly to Texas to contend for NCWA tournament title
March 6, 2018 | Allen, Texas
Seedings were determined Saturday for this week's NCWA Grand National Championships at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas, where competition starts with preliminary matches Thursday at 10 a.m. (CST) and concludes with championship finals Saturday at 6 p.m. (CST).
The Flames, who fly out today, had 16 wrestlers earn national bids with top-five finishes at the Feb. 28 Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) tournament, which they won for the seventh straight time, adding one provisional qualifier. Liberty, the reigning NCWA National Duals champion, will take 16 bonus points into the tournament as the Flames seek to sweep the postseason crowns for the second time in four seasons after first accomplishing that feat in 2015.
"Wrestling is a big momentum sport," Flames top-seeded 235-pound senior Austin Amos said after helping Liberty upend defending champion Emmanuel College in the Jan. 27 NCWA National Duals final for a record third team title. "Hopefully, we can carry the momentum into nationals. We have a tough lineup from top to bottom."
Liberty features two wrestlers in the 141-, 165-, 174-, 184-, 197-, and 235-pound weight classes and individuals in the other five divisions. Most of the brackets, set up for 64 qualifiers, feature between 40 and 50 competitors, giving many wrestlers first-round byes.
"Anything can happen," Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said. "I believe they're ready, and very motivated. Comparing this team to some of those I've had in the past, I can't get these kids off the mat. They want to keep training and they're pretty focused."
Castro expects Emmanuel College, which swept the NCWA National Duals and Grand Nationals last season, to be one of the Flames' main obstacles to completing their postseason sweep.
"They're a solid team and they're going to come ready to wrestle," he said.
Other major threats include Central Florida, which has six returning All-Americans, and the Apprentice School, which qualified 16 wrestlers, including several high seeds, by placing second in the MAC Tournament, only 25 points behind Liberty.
Amos is Liberty's lone No. 1 seed while fellow 235-pound senior David Smith is seeded 18th and will face No. 47 Elijah Tucker in the first round.
At 141 pounds, the Flames feature freshman Reid Stewart, ranked second, who will face Connecticut's 63rd-seeded Anthony Devanny in the first round. Liberty sophomore Ashton Robinson is the 61st seed and will challenge fourth-seeded Michael Harris in his opening bout.
Joe Scott, a sophomore transfer from Washington & Lee, is seeded second and freshman David Cox 16th at 165 pounds for the Flames. Similarly, at 174, two sophomores, Sam Karel and Luke Ely, are seeded third and 16th, respectively.
Flames junior Andrew Burgette is seeded third at 157 and freshman Chad Cantrell is fourth at 149. Junior co-captain Josh McIlhenny is seeded fourth at 184 with senior teammate Cody Richmond 14th. At 197, Flames senior co-captain Taylor Westlake is seeded fifth and freshman Alex Hicks 27th.
At heavyweight, Liberty junior co-captain Dominick Johnson is seeded sixth after placing fifth at last year's national tournament. Two freshmen anchor the Flames in the lightweight classes, with Blake Justis seeded 11th at 133 and Keegan Smith seeded 13th at 125 pounds, a weight class Liberty didn't enter a wrestler last season.
|Sophomore Cendall Manley will look to defend her 170-pound title.|
"It's nice to get high seeds like we did, but sometimes it's a disadvantage due to the pressure to live up to a seed," Castro said. "We want our guys to go in there and do the best they can. It's an individual tournament but they earn team points, so they've got to step up. I'd be disappointed if we don't get at least six All-Americans (for top-eight finishes)."
Complete brackets are available online.