Nov 18, 2008

Flames start season 2-0 with back-to-back wins

by Adam Palmer

The Liberty Flames wrestling team kicked off its season with the hopes of defending its East regional title with a resounding 43-6 victory over Gardner-Webb last Tuesday evening in the Vines Center.

The Flames, who won the East regional last year for the second time in a row, faced off against an improved Gardner-Webb squad that Head Coach Jesse Castro described as being “some of the toughest competition” in the chase for an elusive third East regional title.

The match opened up with senior Tim Harner, who is ranked as the country’s No. 17 grappler at 141 pounds, wrestling up at 149 pounds against Austin Reece. Harner was able to open up the match early by scoring a two-point take down just 20 seconds into the match. Harner ended his match with Reece in the third period by technical fall, winning by a score of 19-4.

This win by Harner was able to give the Flames a 5-0 advantage going into the second bout. Sophomore Julian Colon extended the Flames lead to 11-0 by pinning opponent Justin Guthrie in the 157 pound weight class just 2:35 into the first period.

Redshirt freshman Brad Clark, making his first appearance in a Flames singlet, faced off in the third match of the evening with Dave Sweeney at 165 pounds. Clark, who stands at 6 feet 3 inches, and the much shorter, stockier Sweeney were dead even after the first three minutes, but Clark was able to score a two-point take down with 24 seconds left, eventually winning 15-0 by technical fall at the 6:41 mark.

The wins kept coming when junior Aaron Kelley hit the mat next facing opponent Jonathon Velazaquez. Kelly, who wrestled his way into the NCAA Championship last year, scored a two-point take down followed by five sets of near fall points, leading him to a 16-0 technical fall victory. The win kept the shut out and gave the Flames a 21-0 lead on the Bulldogs.

Kelly’s win was followed by yet another when senior Chris Daggett pinned Blake Salyer in the first period of the 184 pound weight class. Daggett, who is ranked No. 19 in the nation, earned high praise from Castro following the win.

“Chris is a very strong wrestler but coming into this match he was sick so the plan was to try and end the match as soon as possible,” said Castro.

Also recording victories on the night were sophomore Brandon Johnson, freshman Joe Pantaleo and three-time NCAA national qualifier redshirt senior Christian Smith. The Bulldogs’ first points of the evening came in the heavyweight division, as Dustin Porter recorded a 5-0 decision over Josh Pelletier. Wrestling at 141 pounds, Lehigh University transfer Frankie Gayeski fell to Gardner-Webb’s Rob Tate, giving the Bulldogs a total of six points at the end of the match.

The Flames followed Tuesday night’s performance with a 22-16 victory on Saturday night over The Citadel Bulldogs.
Sophomore Nick Knowles opened the match at 184 pounds against Kip Thompson, coming from behind to secure the first three points of the evening for the Flames.

Odie Delaney pushed the Bulldogs ahead with a major decision victory over Johnson at 197, but the lead would be short lived as senior Patrick Walker, wrestling in his first match of the year, defeated Aaron Brown 8-1 in the heavyweight division, giving the Flames a 6-4 lead.

Pantaleo and Smith won the next two matches before Bulldog Derek Royster pinned Gayeski at 141, pulling The Citadel to within two at 12-10.

Harner, however, notched his second technical fall win of the year in the following match, dealing David Ivanschenko an 18-5 loss, his first of the season.

Colon and Clark also recorded wins for the Flames before Kelly dropped a 5-0 decision to J.C. Oddo in the dual’s final match.

The Flames (2-0) will test themselves next Saturday against some of the nation’s best wrestling teams at the Body Bar Invitational hosted by No. 3 Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y.

The Flames will take part in the Hoosier duals the following weekend in Bllomington, Ind.


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