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Four Victors Lead LU to Third Regional Title

March 7, 2009
|  Boiling Springs, N.C.
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Shaun Smith captured his first career NCAA East Regional title on Saturday, becoming one of four national qualifiers for Liberty at this year's event.

Shaun Smith captured his first career NCAA East Regional title on Saturday, becoming one of four national qualifiers for Liberty at this year's event.

For the third-straight year, Liberty dominated the competition at the NCAA East Regional Qualifier, en route to the Flames' third team title at the event. All nine of Liberty's grapplers placed at the tournament, including four individual title winners.

Liberty clearly outdistanced the remaining six teams in the field, scoring 101.5 team points, which was 36.5 points ahead of second-place Millersville, who ended the day with 65 points. The 36.5-point margin was Liberty's second largest in the last three Regional Qualifiers, ranking behind last year's 41-point victory over Gardner-Webb inside the Vines Center.

Gardner-Webb, who hosted the event inside Paul Porter Arena, finished third with 54 points, just edging out Delaware State's 53.5 points by a half point. Campbell finished fifth during the Camels' first go around at the regional qualifier with 45 points, just ahead of sixth-place Duquesne with 43 points. Wagner rounded out the seven-team field with 3.5 points.

Liberty, who only fielded competitors in nine of the 10 weight classes, had seven of its grapplers advance to the championship round. Of the seven, four claimed victory in their bouts, earning automatic berths into the 2009 NCAA National Wrestling Championship.

Liberty's first winner of the day came at 133 pounds, as Christian Smith earned his fourth career trip to the national championship, when the senior clearly dominated his weight class.

The Suffolk, Va., native quickly pinned his first-round opponent, Tyler Harmer, in 20 seconds to advance to a semifinal matchup, where he received a win by medical forfeit over Delaware State's Harry Broomall.

In the title match, Smith made it two-for-two this year against Millersville's Sean Reed, but this time around he picked up his fifth win by fall on the season, pinning Reed 88 seconds into the bout to claim the individual title.

Harner followed suit, as the Norristown, Pa., native will also be making his fourth trip to the national championship with a victorious run at 141 pounds.

The senior received a first-round bye, before pinning Delaware State's Kelvin Walford at 2:25 in the semifinals. In the title bout, the senior continued to dominate the field, picking up his second win by fall on the season over Jayk Cobbs of Duquesne (4:56) and his team-leading 11th on the year to earn a return trip to the national championship, where he will look to improve on last year's round of 16 finish.

The 157-pound weight class proved to be one of the most competitive of the day. Shaun Smith looked to avenge last year's championship round loss with this year's opportunity, and he needed more than seven minutes to do so in the title bout.

After pinning Wagner's Nicholas Dalcero in the first round (1:55) and picking up a 4-2 decision over Duquesne's Nathan Reinhart, Liberty's junior found himself up against No. 1 seed Brandon Gardner from Delaware State.

The Hornets' grappler came into the matchup with a 19-5 overall record, but Smith netted an escape in overtime to pick up his first career NCAA East Regional title and punch his first ticket to the NCAA National Championship with a 4-3 decision in the extra period.

Liberty's final victor of the day came at 184 pounds, as Chris Daggett allowed his opponents just one point during three bouts on the day.

The senior, who came into the event riding a seven-match winning streak, pushed his run to eight with a 3-1 decision over Duquesne's Scott Black to open the day.

After netting a technical fall win over Campbell's Kyle Higgins, 16-0, the Williamstown, W.Va., native kept his next foe scoreless in a 2-0 decision win over hometown favorite Alex Piasecki, earning his second-straight national qualifier.

The Flames also had three runner-up finishes on the day, as Frankie Gayeski (149 pounds), Brad Clark (165 pounds) and Julian Colon (174 pounds) each scored key points toward Liberty's team victory with second-place finishes.

Gayeski and Clark both finished the day 1-1, with Clark coming the closest to an individual victory, as the redshirt freshman dropped a 1-0 decision to Millersville's Jeremy Brooks in the title bout.

Colon won his first two matchups of the day, with a 2-1 decision over No. 3 seed Kyle Skinner of Delaware State, 2-1, and a 10-6 triumph over No. 2 seed Ryan Sula of Duquesne. However, the East Parkersburg, Pa., native couldn't make it three-for-three against seeded foes, as he fell in a 4-1 decision to No. 1 seed Shane Smith of Millersville.

Liberty, who did not field a competitor at 125 pounds, also found a third-place finisher in Brandon Johnson at 197 pounds and a fourth-place finisher in Andrew Wilson at heavyweight.

The Flames' four individual winners on the day will now be making the trek to St. Louis, Mo., for the 2009 NCAA National Wrestling Championship.

The four victors gives Liberty 14 national qualifiers in the last three years, as the Flames also sent four to the national tournament in 2007 and a program-best six qualifiers to the year-end event last year.

Daggett, Harner and the pair of Smiths will return to the mats in two weeks for Liberty, when the nation's best grapplers will battle it out inside the Scottrade Center on March 19-21, 2009, at this year's national championship event.

Place – Team (Points)
1 – Liberty (101.5 points)

2 – Millersville (65 points)
3 – Gardner-Webb (54 points)
4 – Delaware State (53.5 points)
5 – Campbell (45 points)
6 – Duquesne (43 points)
7 – Wagner (3.5 points)