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Smith Spotlight Liberty's First Day at NCAAs
Smith's win helped the Flames pick up two team points, leaving Liberty tied with Cleveland State, Lock Haven, UC Davis and UNC Greensboro for 55th place out of 76 programs in this year's team national championship standings.
Smith will be Liberty's lone grappler taking to the mats on Friday, as he will open up his run in the wrestleback bracket against Old Dominion's Kyle Hutter. The two have tangled before, when Hutter picked up a 6-3 decision over Smith on Jan. 12, 2007, at the Virginia Duals, when both wrestlers were competing at 125 pounds.
The Flames three other national qualifiers, Tim Harner (141 pounds), Shaun Smith (157 pounds) and Chris Daggett (184 pounds), each saw their national championship hopes come to an end on Thursday with consecutive setbacks in the championship and wrestleback backets.
Christian Smith – 133 pounds
Championship round vs. Matt Bonson (Virginia) – W (Dec., 7-6)
Christian Smith opened the day with a rankings' upset, besting Matt Bonson of Virginia, 7-6, thanks to a strong opening and riding time advantage. Smith, ranked No. 42 by Intermat wrestling coming into the event, opened the first period with a two-point takedown and carded a two-point reversal in the second to hold a 4-0 lead after five minutes on the mat.
The action heated up in the beginning of the third, as Bonson, Intermat's No. 27 ranked grappler, took Smith down from the neutral position for his first points. Smith escaped only to have the redshirt freshman take him down again to draw closer.
A second escape was followed by Bonson's third takedown of the period, but Smith's used his first and second period advantage to garner the decisive riding point time, picking up his first NCAA national championship victory in seven career bouts.
Championship round vs. Reece Humphrey (Ohio State) – L (Major dec., 7-16)
Reece Humphrey, who is the No. 2 seed in the bracket and opened the event earlier in the day with a win by fall in just 12 seconds, netted the bout's first points with a two-point takedown. After three minutes of action, Christian Smith trailed the junior by two points, 4-2.
Smith choose bottom to begin the second and quickly carded an escape point, pulling within one of Humphrey. During the remaining minutes of the middle period, Humphrey scored three takedowns, which were each countered by escapes from Smith, leaving Humphrey up five, 10-5.
Smith tried to keep up with the nation's No. 3 ranked grappler, but the Buckeye added his sixth and seventh takedown of the bout, plus a riding time edge to net the 16-7 major decision. The setback sends Smith to tomorrow's wrestleback bracket and ended the Liberty senior's 12-match winning streak.
Tim Harner (141 pounds)
Championship round vs. Ryan Prater (Illinois) – L (Dec., 4-6)
Tim Harner, looking to better his wrestleback round of 16 finish at last year's championship, suffered a 6-4 decision setback to Illinois' Ryan Prater to open this year national title event.
Prater took Harner down in the first and nearly picked up back points, but action between the two grapplers slipped outside the circle, leaving Prater holding onto a 2-0 lead after the first.
Early in the second, Harner suffered a knee injury, where the senior used all but 18 seconds of his injury time. He then was able to make a move on Prater, cradling the sophomore from the top position for three near-fall points for a 3-2 Harner lead. However, Prater reversed the advantage, ending the second with a narrow 4-3 edge.
The Illini's grappler was warned for stalling with 1:20 left in the bout, but a great move helped Prater gained two near-fall points to seal the victory. Harner ended up with an addition point, thanks to riding time, but it was not enough, sending Liberty's 141-pounder into the wrestleback bracket.
Wrestleback bracket vs. Chris Bencivenga (UNC Greensboro) L (Dec., 4-11)
Battling an injury he suffered in his opening bout of the day, Tim Harner did all he could to keep up with UNC Greensboro's Chris Bencivenga, but eventually fell in an 11-4 decision, ending his run at the 2009 national championship.
Bencivenga quickly jumped out on top with a two-point takedown, but Harner fought back, reversing control to even the bout score. After a stoppage of action for Harner's injury time, the Spartans' grappler took the lead with a reversal of his own to stake himself to two-point lead, 4-2, with a 1:25 riding time advantage after three minutes of action.
The middle period remained low scoring, as Bencivenga netted his second reversal of the matchup after Harner chose top to begin the period. Harner slipped away from the redshirt senior before the buzzer sound, leaving Bencivenga with a 6-3 lead.
Bencivenga continued to control the action in the third, adding two more takedowns to Harner's escape points, sealing the 11-4 victory with the riding time advantage. The bout was a higher scoring affair than the pair's previous match, where Bencivenga bested Harner in a 2-1 decision earlier this year on Feb. 2.
The loss ends Harner's collegiate wrestling career, leaving the 141-pounder with a 94-38 mark as a member of the Flames, and a 120-53 four-year collegiate wrestling record after factoring in his freshman season at Rider.
Shaun Smith (157 pounds)
Championship round vs. Gregor Gillespie (Edinboro) – L (Tech. fall – 0-16/6:22)
Shaun Smith received no favors from the seeding committee during his first trip the national championships, as Liberty's junior drew No. 4 seed Gregor Gillespie, the 2007 national champion in the weight class.
Smith stayed with the three-time All-American early on, trailing only by four, 4-0, after Gillespie recorded a first-period takedown with two near-fall points.
Gillespie controlled the pace of action throughout the second from the top position, as the senior added six points, thanks to moves that led to three near-fall points, for a 10-0 edge.
Edinboro's top grappler continued his dominance in the third, adding a two-point takedown with a single and three near-fall points to end the bout, 16-0, with 38 seconds left before the final buzzer. The technical fall win upped Gillespie's mark this season to 38-1 and dropped Smith into the wrestleback bracket.
Wrestleback bracket vs. Jedd Moore (Virginia) – L (Dec., 1-4)
Shaun Smith used the experience he gained in his first-ever national championship bout earlier in the day, as he opened against Virginia's Jeff Moore in the wrestleback bracket. But the freshman Cavalier was able to up his mark to 30-13 on the year by besting Smith in a 4-1 decision.
Both grapplers jockeyed for position during the first and second periods, but neither could gain an advantage, leaving the matchup scoreless after five minutes of action.
Moore was the first to get on the scoreboard, escaping Smith's grasps to open the third after choosing the bottom position to open the last period. Moore added to his lead with a takedown, before Smith was able to scurry away for an escape point.
But that would be all Liberty's junior could do during the final two minutes, as Moore held on the remainder of the period and added his riding time advantage to secure the three-point victory, 4-1.
The setback begins to a close Smith's 2008-09 season, leaving the junior with an 11-15 mark during his third year with the program.
Chris Daggett (184 pounds)
Championship round vs. Chris Honeycutt (Edinboro) – L (Major dec., 5-13)
A Flames wrestler was pitted against its second Edinboro grappler during the championship, when Chris Daggett took to the mats against Chris Honeycutt at 184 pounds. And the No. 10 seed Honeycutt gave the Fighting Scots their second victory over Liberty with a 13-5 major decision win.
Honeycutt quickly carded a two-point takedown to take an early lead and looked like he was going to add to it with back points. But Daggett was able to get away for an escape, leaving the bout 2-1 in Honeycutt's favor after three minutes.
After Honeycutt deferred to open the second, Daggett used his chosen down position to knot the bout at 2-2 with an escape. But the rest of the middle period belonged to Edinboro's senior, as two takedowns were sandwiched between another Daggett escape to give Honeycutt at 6-3 lead.
Honeycutt continued to maintain control of the match in the third, adding three more takedowns and a riding time advantage to net the 13-5 major decision. The loss was Daggett's first in 11 matchups and sends the senior into the wrestleback bracket after one bout for the second-straight year at the national championship.
Wrestleback bracket vs. David Thompson (Bucknell) – L (Dec., 2-6)
David Thompson wasted little time in his wrestleback bracket matchup with Chris Daggett, taking Liberty's 184-pounder down quickly after the opening whistle for two points with an additional pair of near-fall points.
Daggett eventually got away from Thompson to get on the board with an escape, but Bucknell's grappler put a move on Liberty's senior for his second takedown of the opening three minutes to stake himself to a 6-1 lead.
Following a high-scoring first, neither wrestler managed to do much during the middle period. Thompson choose bottom and Daggett maintained control throughout the two minutes, but neither grappler could add points to the board, leaving the bout at 6-1.
The two switched positions to open the third and Daggett got away from Thompson with 45 seconds left to end the stalemate. However, that was all the senior could do, as the buzzer sounded quickly thereafter with Thompson advancing with the four-point decision win.
Like Harner, the loss brings Daggett's career run as a Flame to an end. After his best season at Liberty, 25-15, the Williamsburg, W.Va., grappler finishes off his days at Liberty with a 49-44 career mark.