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LU Grapplers Return Home for Senior Night

February 18, 2009
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Shaun Smith will be one of five wrestler honored prior to the start of Liberty's dual with VMI on Thursday evening.

Shaun Smith will be one of five wrestler honored prior to the start of Liberty's dual with VMI on Thursday evening.

Live Stats - Liberty vs. VMI

For the first time since Nov. 11, when the Flames defeated Gardner-Webb 43-6, Liberty will wrestle on its own turf, as the Flames are set to host in-state foe VMI, Thursday evening, in the Vines Center on Senior Night.

Prior to the match, which marks one of three home dual events for the two-time defending NCAA East Regional champions on the year, Liberty will honor its senior class.

The five member upperclassmen collection includes Chris Daggett, Tim Harner, Christian Smith, Shaun Smith and Patrick Walker, who have combined to qualify for nine NCAA national championship appearances during their wrestling careers.

Leading the class for the Flames is a pair of three-time national qualifiers in Harner and Christian Smith. Harner, who earned his first ticket to the national event at Lehigh at 133 pounds, has posted a 91-35 record since transferring to Liberty three seasons ago.

This year, the 141-pounder leads the Flames with a 22-9 overall record and a 14-3 mark since moving back to his more traditional weight class in January. The Norristown, Pa., native has won four straight and 11 out of his last 12 matches, including a first-period pin (2:36) over George Mason's John Delgado last night.

Christian Smith, who came to Liberty after an ACC championship stint at Duke and two years at Virginia Tech, has advanced to the national event in two weight divisions since joining the Flames roster (125 and 133 pounds).

The Suffolk, Va., native officially will come into the bout with the Keydets with a 47-60 career mark at Liberty, after losing 16 victories to an NCAA ruling last year.

This go around, the 133-pounder is looking to finish his six-year collegiate wrestling career off strong, as he has reeled off six straight wins to boost his record to 19-14 on the season.

Walker, who got a later start on his collegiate wrestling career, after serving four tours of duty in the military straight out of high school, has dominated Liberty's heavyweight rankings since setting foot on Liberty Mountain.

The junior, who will be completing his pastoral leadership degree this year, has posted a 70-24 overall record in a Liberty singlet, qualifying twice for the national tournament. In limited action this year, the Newark, Del., native is 10-5, having proven victorious five out of his last seven trips out onto the mat.

Daggett has been a solid force for the Flames this year, after garnering his first trip the NCAA national tournament in 2008 with a victory at the NCAA East Regional at 184 pounds.

The West Virginia transfer is having a banner year, posting a 20-13 record this season to give him a career mark of 44-42 coming into the squabble with the Keydets.

The Williamstown, W.Va., native who was listed at No. 19 nationally in the preseason rankings, has carded five consecutive victories to be one of two Flames to reach the 20-win plateau this year.

The final senior who will be honored prior to the opening whistle against the Keydets will be Shaun Smith. The junior, who will be completing his sport management degree this May, has posted a 40-47 record since joining the program as a freshman in 2007.

The Washington, W.Va., native had his best season as a freshman, when he finished the campaign 19-18 to help Liberty during the program's first year of reinstatement after a 12-year hiatus. Last year, the 157-pounder nearly gave the Flames seven national qualifiers, as he dropped a close 5-2 decision to Millersville's Jarrett Hostetter in the title bout at the NCAA East Regional qualifier hosted by the Flames.

Liberty, who has won four consecutive dual matchups to raise its record to 10-9-1 on the season, will tangle with VMI for the third straight season.

The Flames have defeated the Keydets by nearly identical scores over the past two seasons, handing VMI a 30-13 setback on Feb. 15, 2007, at the Vines Center, and a 30-12 loss inside Cameron Hall on Feb. 22, 2008.

A scrappy, but young, Keydets squad will be looking to pick up its first dual victory of the year, as they enter the matchup with a 0-9 dual record. VMI, whose roster has only four upperclassmen, is led by John Pope, Tyler Hutchens and Josh Wine.

Pope is the Keydets' leading point gainer in dual bouts, netting 22 out of 122 team dual points (18.0 percent), thanks to his 12-13 record at 125 pounds.

Hutchens has posted an 11-9 record during his first season with VMI at 133 pounds, while Wine, a sophomore at heavyweight, has claimed six of his last seven bouts to raise his record to 11-5 on the season.

The probable starting lineups only pit one repeat bout from last season, which comes at heavyweight. Walker carded the Flames' third and final major decision in the matchup, blanking Wine, 13-0, to give the Flames their final team points in the dual.

Probable Starters
Liberty (10-9-1) vs. VMI (0-9-0) (Season Records)
125 – Unknown vs. John Pope (12-13)
133 – Christian Smith (19-14) vs. Tyler Hutchens (11-9)
141 – Tim Harner (22-8) vs. David Yost (10-6)
149 – Frankie Gayeski (9-16) vs. Joe Munno (8-16)
157 – Julian Colon (6-11) or Shaun Smith (7-13) vs. Michael Long (11-12)
165 – Brad Clark (13-13) vs. Matthew Brock (8-14) or Kyle Elgert (4-5)
174 – Aaron Kelley (13-16) vs. Andrew Szymborski (10-11)
184 – Chris Daggett (20-13) vs. Vinnie Gallo (6-15)
197 – Brandon Johnson (8-17) vs. Curtis Moore (7-4)
285 – Patrick Walker (10-5) vs. Josh Wine (11-5)