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LU Ends Impressive Run at NCAA Championships
Following last year's inaugural run back onto the national scene, Liberty's wrestling program took another step forward with three grapplers competing on the second day at the NCAA National Wrestling Championship.
Last year, Patrick Walker was the lone victor among four Flame wrestlers up in Ann Arbor, Mich., claiming a victory in the heavyweight wrestleback bracket.
This year's go around, Liberty had its first victory in the championship bracket since the program was reinstated, coming from Chad Porter at 165 pounds, followed by consolation victories by Porter, Tim Harner (141 pounds) and Aaron Kelley (174 pounds).
Porter and Harner went on to claim victories during their opening bouts on Friday, before falling in the later session wrestleback brackets. The pair of "Sweet 16" finishers posted 2-2 records during the event, setting a new program standard for victories at the national tournament.
Kelley finished with a 1-2 record, while Christian Smith (133 pounds), Chris Daggett (184 pounds) and Walker lost both their matches.
The elimination of Liberty's second-day trio at the national championship brings to a close the Flames second season under head coach Jesse Castro.
Castro led the Flames to an 11-12-1 dual match record, battling stiffer competition than last year's squad, who finished with a 16-8 mark. The Flames placed 49th at last year's NCAA National Championship, while this year, Liberty was ranked tied for No. 51 at the close of the three-day competition.
The 2007-08 campaign included victories over some well-established program, including the likes of The Citadel and UNC Greensboro from the Southern Conference, and an impressive home tie against defending ACC champion N.C. State.
Following a successful regular season, Liberty closed out the year in the same fashion for the second-consecutive season. However, this time they did so in their own backyard, claiming the NCAA East Regional Championship on March 9 inside the Vines Center. The tournament marked the first time in University history that Liberty had hosted an NCAA Championship event.
Six Liberty grapplers claimed individual titles on the day, punching their tickets to St. Louis for this year's national championship.
Four made their second appearance at the premier collegiate event this season, with Smith, Harner, Porter and Walker all making the trek north last March. This year, the quartet was joined by Kelley and Daggett.
All six wrestlers who qualified for the national championship this year return for Liberty next year, and will have another chance at reaching the year-ending tournament. The event is slated to the return to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis on March 19-21, 2009.
Just prior to the NCAA National Championship event, the NCAA granted Liberty's lone national qualifying senior, Smith, a sixth year of eligibility.
The collegiate journeyman was schedule to complete his career this weekend. The Suffolk, Va., native was an ACC champion at 125 pounds during his freshman year at Duke, before transferring to Virginia Tech.
An injury kept him out of the Hokies' line-up during his only year at Virginia Tech, the season prior to transferring to Liberty. Midway thought the 2007-08 season, Smith was ruled ineligible by the NCAA and was forced to forfeit his first 30 matches of the year.
However, following the recent ruling, the 133-pound, along with the other quintuplet of grapplers, will return for another shot at national prominence, helping lead a greater-experienced Liberty Flames squad on the mats during the 2008-09 season.
Below is a match-by-match breakdown of Liberty's second round matches on Thursday and all three matches on Friday at the 2008 NCAA National Wrestling Championship:
Christian Smith (133 pounds)
Consolation Round – L/ 2-4 vs. Terreyl Williams (Appalachian State)
Christian Smith led a low-scoring match going into the final two minutes of the bout, but Appalachian State's Terreyl Williams used a reversal and a takedown to stay alive in the wrestleback bracket with a 4-2 victory.
The first half of the match remained very quiet, as neither grappler scored until the second. Smith chose down to open the period and notched his first points of the match with an escape.
The score stayed the same until the third when Williams one upped Smith, choosing down to open and scoring two points off a reversal. Smith found a way out to tie the match-up with an escape point, but Williams secured the 4-2 victory with a late takedown, ending the senior's career at Liberty.
Tim Harner (141 pounds)
Consolation Round – W/ 12-5 vs. Jon Kohler (Maryland)
Three takedowns, two coming with near-fall points, enable Tim Harner to pick up his first career victory at the NCAA Championship, helping the junior to a 12-5 victory over Maryland's Jon Kohler in the first round of the wrestleback bracket.
Kohler, an ACC champion, opened the bout with a two-point takedown, but Harner quickly reversed control, taking a 4-2 lead following two near-fall points. Kohler escaped before the opening whistle sounded, allowing Harner to take a one-point lead into the second, 4-3.
Liberty's junior scored three near-fall points to open the second, before Kohler scurried away for an escape point. But Harner continued to control the match, taking down the freshman to command a 9-4 lead going into the third.
Harner chose down to begin the third and scored an escape point, getting away from Kohler. With 17 seconds left, Liberty's junior scored a takedown on a double-leg move, before allowing Kohler to escape just prior to the bout's conclusion.
Consolation Round – W/ 10-5 vs. Ryan Williams (Old Dominion)
Tim Harner avenged a loss from earlier in the year to stay alive in the NCAA National Championship, by securing a 10-5 victory over Old Dominion's Ryan Williams on Friday morning.
Williams picked up a 13-4 major decision victory in the title bout at the Virginia State Intecollegiates over Harner on Jan. 5. However, Liberty's junior got the best of the Monarch's junior, using a takedown and three near-fall points to open up a close match in the second.
Harner scored early, taking down Williams in the first, before the Old Dominion grappler escaped and returned the favor to Harner with his own takedown to claim a 3-2 lead after one.
Williams, ranked No. 17 nationally as the CAA champion, continued to lengthy his lead, escaping from the down position early in the second. However, Harner took control of the match with a takedown and a trio of near-fall points for a 7-4 lead.
In the third, Harner continued to control the pace, netting his third takedown of the match to open the final period en route to a five-point victory, 10-5, and the junior's second-straight win during the championship event.
Consolation Round – L/ 0-5 vs. Cody Cleveland (UT-Chattanooga)
The first of Liberty's pair of magical runs at this year's NCAA National Championship came to end when Cody Cleveland from UT-Chattanooga blanked Tim Harner in the junior's second wrestleback bout of the day.
Cleveland, ranked No. 9 nationally among 141-pounders, scored first with a takedown during the first three minutes of the bout.
Choosing neutral to start the second, Cleveland scored his second takedown of the match with one in the second period, while the red-shirt sophomore controlled the low-scoring match to take the riding-time point and secure the 5-0 victory.
Chad Porter (165 pounds)
Consolation Round – W/ 9-2 vs. Marcus Effner (Cleveland State)
Marcus Effner scored first, but Chad Porter reeled off nine-straight points to secure his second victory at the national championship, claiming a 9-2 decision over the Cleveland State grappler in the third round of the wrestleback bracket.
Effner notched the bout's first points, scoring a takedown during the first three minutes of action. But that would be the final time the redshirt junior would score the remainder of the match, as Porter started his nine-point run with an escape late in the first.
Liberty's sophomore chose down to begin the second, but reversed control shortly thereafter, with a reversal and three near-fall points to open up a 6-2 advantage.
Starting at neutral in the third, Porter took down Effner for the first time of the match and maintained command, finishing with riding time to claim the 9-2 win.
Consolation Round – L/ 1-4 vs. Trevor Stewart (Central Michigan)
In Liberty's lowest scoring bout at the NCAA National Championship, a scoreless tie was broken in the third when Central Michigan's Trevor Stewart notched a two-point takedown en route to a 4-1 victory over Chad Porter, ending the run for Liberty's 165-pounder.
Both grapplers struggled to gain control of the match, as neither could put points on the scoreboard until the third.
Porter, starting in the up position in the second, held a slight advance with riding time going into the third. Stewart tried to counter by selecting the neutral position to being the third.
And the decision played off for the nation's No. 9 ranked wrestler when he scored the takedown, along with two near-fall points. Porter tried to escape, but could only claim one point in the match with the riding-time advantage, bowing out of the national championship with the 4-1 setback.
Aaron Kelley (174 pounds)
Consolation Round – W/ 8-4 vs. Trevor Perry (Indiana)
Trevor Perry scored early in the first, but Aaron Kelley came storming back with series of moves which led to six points, enabling the sophomore to record his first NCAA Championship win with an 8-4 decision.
Perry, the Big 10 qualifier at 174 pounds, took down Kelley quickly, netting two points with the move. However, Liberty's sophomore escaped, followed by a takedown of his own to take a 3-2 lead. Kelley continued to control Perry, notching two different sets of two near-fall points before the Hoosier escaped just prior the opening period ending.
Neither grappler scored in the second. Both grapplers scored single points in the third, with Kelley's coming following the match as the sophomore finished with a riding-time advantage to secure the 8-4 victory.
Consolation Round – L/ 0-11 vs. Duke Burk (Northern Illinois)
Northern Illinois' Duke Burk opened up a close bout with Liberty's Aaron Kelley by scoring five points during the last two minutes of action to secure an 11-0 major decision in Friday's action of the wrestleback bracket.
Burk, ranked No. 13 nationally coming into the championship event, scored a two-point takedown late in the first to break the scoreless tie.
Choosing down to open the second, Burk maneuvered his way out of Kelley's grasp, scoring an escape to open the second, followed by his second takedown to take a 5-0 lead after five minutes on the mat.
With both wrestlers neutral to begin the third, Burk put the match out of reach with his third takedown, this one coming with two near-fall points to secure the victory and end Kelley's inaugural run at the national title competition.
Chris Daggett (184 pounds)
Consolation Round – L/ forfeit (medical) vs. Lior Zamir (Penn)
Chris Daggett's first run at the NCAA National Championship came sooner than the junior wanted. The West Virginia native was forced to forfeit his wrestleback opening bout to Penn's Lior Zamir because of medical reasons.
Patrick Walker (285 pounds)
Consolation Round – L/ 3-5 vs. Travis Gardner (Oregon)
Following a scoreless opening three minutes on the mats, both grapplers netted reversals in the second. But Oregon's Travis Gardner got away from Patrick Walker, followed by a late takedown to secure a 5-3 decision and stave off elimination in the wrestleback bracket.
Neither wrestler could find the scoreboard until second. Gardner deferred to Walker at the start of the second, with Liberty's sophomore taking the down position.
Walker gained the bout's first lead, following a reversal; however Oregon's senior grappler switched control with his own reversal just prior to the end of the second.
Following a stalemate call with 1:35 left in the third, Gardner escaped the down position, to take his first lead. Seconds later, the Beaver's top heavyweight, who was ranked No. 20 in the weight class, took down Walker, who could only muster an escape during the waning seconds before the bout ended.