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Flames Return Home to Host Bucknell
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The Flames will return to the Vines Center on Saturday where they will host Bucknell in an afternoon dual at 3 p.m. The on-campus dual begins a stretch where Liberty will host four of its next six events at home.
Liberty kicked off the 2009-10 season with a home victory over Campbellsville, 25-9, on Nov. 7 inside the Schilling Center. However, the Flames have been on the road since, competing in events in six different states during the last two months.
Liberty comes into the dual matchup with a 6-6 record after dropping three duals during its last trip out on the mats. Two weeks ago, Liberty made the trek across the Commonwealth to participate in the Virginia Duals on Jan. 8.
The prestigious event was celebrating its 30th anniversary and the event organizers put together a star-studded field, which featured nine Top 25 programs in the 16-team national collegiate bracket.
Odds were high Liberty was going to draw one of the nation's best teams during the event; however, the Flames managed to draw the best in Oklahoma State as their first-round opponent.
The Cowboys came into the matchup ranked No. 4 in the country, making Oklahoma State the highest ranked team the Flames have squared off against in a dual match in wrestling program history.
Liberty managed to take two of the 10 weight class matchups, with wins by Joe Pantaleo at 133 pounds and Frankie Gayeski at 149 pounds, but the Cowboys prevailed in the end, defeating Liberty 36-6 to send the Flames into the consolation bracket.
Hometown favorite Old Dominion was in the same draw as the Flames and was upset by Clarion to pit Liberty against the No. 23 ranked Monarchs in the second round. Once again, Liberty was only able to win two bouts in the 27-6 setback.
The final round of duals that day pitted Liberty against Drexel and Bucknell against UC Davis. The Flames continued to struggle to find success on the mats inside the Hampton Coliseum, losing to the Dragons, 24-11.
On the mat adjacent to the Flames, Drexel ended its two-match skid with a 32-9 victory over UC Davis by taking seven out of 10 bouts.
The only action either team has seen since the Virginia Duals came last night, as Bucknell hosted EIWA conference foe Brown inside Davis Gym. And the Bison were able to improve to 4-0 in league action with a 28-13 victory, pushing Bucknell's mark to 7-5 on the season.
The two squads have faced some of the best teams in the nation, with seven of their combined 11 losses coming at the hands of nationally ranked foes. Liberty's top opponent this year came in its matchup with No. 4 Oklahoma State at the Virginia Duals, while Bucknell had the opportunity to host No. 1 Iowa on Nov. 27 in Lewisburg, Pa., where they dropped a 27-9 dual event with the Hawkeyes.
Liberty and Bucknell are no strangers to each other on the mats, having squared off in a dual event the last three seasons. Bucknell holds a 2-1 edge in the series, after taking the last two matchups.
During their first matchup in 2007, Liberty overcame an 18-3 deficit to rally for a 25-24 victory, when Shaun Smith secured a 4-3 decision win over Brantley Hooks at 157 pounds. The pair of upperclassmen is slated to reprise that match on Saturday inside the Vines Center.
The Bison has won their last two events with the Flames, picking up a 25-9 victory in a quad event hosted by the Flames inside the Schilling Center in 2008 and a 37-12 home victory last year. During both matchups, the dual remained close early until the Bison strung together six-straight wins to secure the team victory.
Bucknell comes into tomorrow's bout a much more experienced team than the Flames, as the Bison have four of their regular-starting 10 grapplers currently nationally ranked in their respective weight classes.
Headlining the quartet is Kevin LeValley, who is ranked No. 7 in the country at 149 pounds. LeValley picked up his 80th career victory last night with a 10-2 major decision win.
Two weeks ago, this was slated to be the marquee matchup for Saturday afternoon; however, Liberty's Frankie Gayeski, who leads the team with a 19-6 record, most likely will not wrestle due to a back injury.
Liberty is not the only team that will be without some of its best grapplers on Saturday, as the visiting Bison will be without the services of returning All-American Andy Rendos. The senior, who holds a 108-29 career record and is ranked No. 11 at 165 pounds, is out of the lineup after suffering a knee injury last month.
The Bison's top two remaining grapplers are both ranked No. 17 in their respective weight classes. Dave Marble brings a 19-7 record into the dual at 133 pounds, while Shane Riccio is coming off a historic victory, last night, as the senior picked up his 100th career win at 174 pounds in the victory over Brown.
With Gayeski likely out of the lineup, head coach Jesse Castro will look for leadership from his two remaining team captains Smith and Chad Porter.
As previous mentioned, Smith is slated to renew a growing rivalry with Hooks at 157 pounds. Their personal series stands at one match apiece, as Hooks scored a 4-2 sudden-victory win over Smith in their last matchup in 2008.
Porter ranks second on Liberty's win-loss ledger this year, as the junior is sporting a 15-8 overall record and an 8-3 mark in dual matches. Porter had his best stretch of dual success when he won six of seven bouts at the Hoosier Duals and a quad match hosted by Binghamton earlier this season.
Besides Smith and Porter, Liberty could be looking to get some key points at heavyweight, as Castro could send one of two 10-match victors out onto the mats.
Josh Pelletier is 11-4 on the season, with all four of his losses coming to Top 20 grapplers, while his understudy Andrew Wilson is 10-8 this year, with losses to the No. 1 and No. 2 heavyweights in the country on his personal record.
The match will mark the return of Liberty wrestling to the airwaves, as the Flames Sports Network (FSN) will be televising the remaining four home duals events this season.
FSN first covered the Flames back in 2008, when the network covered Liberty's tournament victory at the NCAA East Regionals, which the Flames won in front of their home fans inside the Vines Center.
Liberty vs. Bucknell (2009-10 Season Records)
125 – Jonathan Childress (8-8) vs. Derrik Russell (11-15)
133 – Joe Pantaleo (8-9) vs. No. 17 David Marble (19-7)
141 – Scott Clymer (12-9) vs. John Regan (17-9)
149 – Joey Montgomery (0-0) or Peter Crawford (1-4) vs. No. 7 Kevin LeValley (29-5)
157 – Shaun Smith (10-7) vs. Brantley Hooks (16-13)
165 – Chad Porter (15-8) vs. Corey Lear (15-10)
174 – Brad Clark (15-8) vs. No. 17 Shane Riccio (25-7)
184 – Nick Knowles (9-11) vs. Rob Waltko (15-12)
197 – Jacobi Johnson (7-14) vs. Jay Hahn (12-7)
285 – Andrew Wilson (10-8) or Josh Pelletier (11-4) vs. Joe McMullan (7-4) or Conor Sweeney (3-14)