Wrestlers ready to rumble at NCWA Grand Nationals in Texas
March 12, 2020 | Allen, Texas
Liberty University's men's and women's wrestling teams have the depth needed to set program records for points scored at this weekend's NCWA Grand National Championships in Allen, Texas, where men's preliminary round action begins Thursday at 11 a.m (EST). Women's competition starts on Friday and both tournaments conclude on Saturday on the five showcase mats set up in the Allen Event Center.
Last year, the Flames had 11 All-Americans for posting top-eight finishes in the 11 weight classes and won all five of their championship matches to defend their team tournament championship and win for the third time in five seasons.
"That was unprecedented," Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said. "That will be tough to repeat."
The Flames had All-Americans in nine weight classes last March — individual wrestlers at 141, 149, 157, 165, 184, 197, and 285 pounds and two at 174 and 235. This year, they qualified two contenders in every weight class from 149 to heavyweight (285) in winning their ninth consecutive Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) Tournament title.
"All of them have the potential to be All-Americans," Castro said.
In all, 19 men's wrestlers and nine women's wrestlers will be competing in Texas. The Flames, who won their third consecutive NCWA National Duals title on Jan. 25 at Liberty, will be vying for their fourth NCWA Grand National Tournament crown in six years.
"I think it's ours to lose," Castro said. "I think we're sitting good, but there are so many variables in a national tournament that can happen."
The Lady Flames, meanwhile, will look to improve on last year's fourth-place finish with senior 170-pounder Cendall Manley challenging for her fourth consecutive national title and her older sister, second-year 143-pound graduate student Charisse Manley, eyeing a title defense.
Originally expected to be the largest in the history of the tournament, the men's and women's fields will be smaller than anticipated with at least seven men's teams and seven women's individual wrestlers not able to make the trip because of their schools' travel restrictions due to the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Men's tournament weight divisions, normally set up as 64-man brackets, will instead be 32-man fields with extra pigtail rounds as needed.
Castro said the Flames are bringing not only a near-record number of wrestlers, but the most quality lineup he's ever had.
"We are a little more deep as far as our No. 2 man in each weight class," he said. "We have the two best 165-pounders in the country (junior Joe Scott and sophomore David Cox). We potentially have the two best 197-pounders (senior two-time defending champion Austin Amos and freshman Blake Barrick) and possibly the two best 235-pounders (junior defending champion Jeff Allen and graduate David Smith)."
"Those seniors, they're pretty pumped," Castro said. "They understand the severity of the situation they're in. This Is their last go-around. I'm trying to keep them calm, and don't want them to be anxious right now."
At the same time, he is lighting a fire under a few of the Flames, including those coming off injuries.
"We've got some guys still on the mend," Castro said. "It's too late (to heal completely). They're going to have to do what they have to do. I don't want to be insensitive, but they're going to have to suck it up because this is a national tournament."
Castro expects two-time defending runner-up and MAC rival The Apprentice School, Grand Valley (Mich.), Grays Harbor (Wash.), Mott Community College (Mich.), and UNLV to be some of the top teams in the tournament with legitimate chances of dethroning the Flames.