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Liberty Wrestling Set to Host NCAA East Regional Field

March 3, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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T. J. Mitchell (133 pounds) and the Flames are set to host Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Millersville and Sacred Heart in the Vines Center, Sunday afternoon. The East Regional Championships begin at 2:30 p.m.

The Flames welcome the four other East Region teams to the Vines Center for the NCAA East Regional Championship this Sunday, when Liberty goes for its fifth-consecutive team title at the event.

The teams making the trek to Lynchburg for the NCAA-qualifying event include Campbell, Gardner-Webb, Millersville and Sacred Heart, all of which are hoping it's their turn to capture the team championship.

In Liberty's four years competing for the East Regional title since its reinstatement for the 2006-07 season, the Flames have stood above the competition, taking home the team title every year while sending 20 grapplers on to the national event.

Putting that number in perspective, 10 bids to the NCAA Championship are available each year for wrestlers at the East Regional Championship. By taking 20 individual titles, the Flames have taken half of the East Region's allocations, with the other half being spread around to their respective opponents through the years. Millersville has taken the second most of teams still competing in the region, winning eight individual titles in the last four years.

On the team side, the Flames' numbers are just as dominating. The last three years, Liberty has eclipsed the 100-point mark at the event, winning by an average of nearly 38 points each year. The closest a competitor has come to the Flames was in 2007, when Gardner Webb finished 17.5 points behind Liberty.

Campbell
The Fighting Camels ended their season dropping a 38-4 match to UNC Greensboro, completing their regular-season with a 4-18 dual meet record. In comparison, the Flames defeated UNC Greensboro, 24-16, as part of their eight-match win streak.

Liberty and Campbell faced off earlier this season. Campbell came to the Flames' Schilling Center on Dec. 11, with Liberty taking the dual meet, 38-3. Sophomore John Merickel claimed the visitor's sole win, earning a 4-1 decision over Liberty's Marcus Nielson at 184 pounds. Merickel finished the year with 10 wins, ranking second on the team in that category.

Parker Burns leads the Fighting Camels 2010-11 campaign, taking 15 wins on the year at heavyweight. Four of those victories came by fall, another stat which the senior lead his team in. Burns has been a national qualifier, but at the 197-pound weight class, which he claimed at the 2009 regional championship.

Tanner Bidelspach will look for his 10th win on the year this weekend, as the redshirt freshman holds a 9-17 mark this season at 125 pounds.

Campbell is in its third year competing in the NCAA East Regional Championship. Last year the Fighting Camels accumulated 44 team points for a fourth-place finish, led by Burns' title at 197 pounds. In 2009's tournament, the Camels posted 45 team points for a fifth-place finish, led by runner-up finishes by Burns at 197 pounds and former heavyweight, Khiry Reid.

Gardner-Webb
The Runnin' Bulldogs also capped their season off with a loss to UNC Greensboro, with the Spartans winning by a 37-6 margin. Gardner-Webb finished its season with a 6-15-1 mark in dual meets.

The Flames and Runnin' Bulldogs faced off once this year at the East Regional Duals, hosted by Millersville. While Gardner-Webb held an 11-10 advantage through six bouts, the Flames won three of the final four weight-class match ups to go on to win, 24-14.

Richie Spicel (141), Ryan Medved (149) and Alex Medved (157) helped give Gardner-Webb its lead early in the match against the Flames. Victories from these grapplers weren't uncommon this year, with each ranking in the top four in wins for the Runnin' Bulldogs.

Alex Medved led the squad with a career-high 26 wins, besting his freshman campaign of 22 victories. Spicel posted 21 wins this year, while teammate Travis Porter (197) eclipsed the 20-win mark as well, coming out on top in 22 bouts. Ryan Medved rounded out the Runnin' Bulldogs' win leaders with 18. Each of these four grapplers for Gardner-Webb are redshirt sophomores.

Gardner-Webb has been the biggest competitor to the Flames in the NCAA East Regional Championship, finishing second to Liberty three of the last four years. The squad's lowest finish in that span was a third-place finish, which came in 2009 when they hosted the regional tournament.

Despite having no grapplers on the current roster that hold an individual title at the event, the quartet of redshirt sophomores looks to change that after posting solid records in the regular season. Last season, all four of the underclassmen took home third-place honors at the event.

Millersville
Millersville's season came to an end with a 22-13 loss to Franklin & Marshall in its own Pucillo Gymnasium. The Marauders wrapped up their regular season with a 2-10 record for the year. Two of their wins came against East Region competitors, defeating Sacred Heart (24-23) and Campbell (26-21).

In the Flames meet with the Marauders at the East Regional Duals, Liberty rolled easily after starting the match with six-straight wins to grab a 28-0 lead. The Marauders won their sole match of the day at 174 pounds, with Shane Smith winning by fall. Liberty ended the match with three more wins for the final score of 40-6. The Flames' Chad Porter reached his milestone 100th victory during the match, defeating Brandon Vernalli on a technical fall, 15-0 (7:00).

Five Marauders picked up double-digit wins this season, led overall by Smith at 174 pounds. The junior won 26 bouts this season, including 18 wins by fall. Three more of Smith's wins came by major decision.

Vernalli ranked second on the team in wins, earning 13 wins on the year at 165 pounds.

Mike Greck (141), Dakota Kuhn (157) and Bradley Ladd (HWT) round out Millersville's double-digit winners this season, picking up 11, 10 and 10 wins, respectively.

After tying for third in 2007 and a fourth-place finish in 2008, Millersville crowned three individual champions in 2009 to finish as runners-up with 65 points in Boiling Springs, N.C. Last year the Marauders had two grapplers finish with titles, to earn a third-place finish at the event. Smith enters the event this season looking for his third-straight NCAA Regional crown.

Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart will be participating in its first NCAA East Region tournament after competing in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA) in past years. The Pioneers finished 2011 with a 1-17 mark, picking up their win against American International, 39-6.

One can't be fooled by the Pioneers record, however, as they have two competitors who have had impressive seasons. Anthony Priore led the squad at 157 pounds, notching 14 wins on the year. Jon Rizzitello trailed his teammate by just one win, finishing the season with 13 victories at 165 pounds.

When the Flames and Pioneers met at the East Regional Duals, Priore and Rizzitello both came out on top in their matches, but the Flames defeated the Pioneers, 36-13. However, Head Coach Jesse Castro didn't field his typical lineup against Sacred Heart.

Priore comes into his first East Regional tournament after placing fourth in last year's CAA tournament. Paul Schweighardt (HWT) also placed fourth for the Pioneers in last year's CAA tournament. Schweighardt finished this season with eight wins.

A wrestler on Sacred Heart's team that is familiar with the East Regional Championship is former Duquesne grappler, Billy Chamberlain. Duquesne competed in the East Regional Championships prior to cutting its team after last season. Chamberlain captured the 125-pound title in 2009, defeating a Millersville grappler.


With the 2011 NCAA East Regional tournament being on Sunday, be sure to look for LibertyFlames.com's final two days of wrestling-feature articles. Tomorrow, Coach Castro will preview the event in his latest Coach's Corner, while Saturday will take a look at the Flames' weight class line up for the 2011 event.