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Flames Take to Road to Face George Mason
On Thursday, Liberty's wrestling team will begin a two-match road swing which will close out its 2009-10 regular-season schedule, starting with a dual against George Mason inside the RAC in Fairfax, Va.
This will mark the third-straight season the two squads have circled the mats against each other, with the road squad walking away as the victor in each of the previous matchups.
In 2008, No. 16 Cayle Byers scored a major decision over Nick Knowles at 197 pounds, helping the Patriots to steal a 19-18 comeback victory over the Flames inside the Vines Center on Feb. 5.
Last year, George Mason once again overcame an early deficit to take a 19-17 lead after nine bouts, when Medbagana Tovuujav scored a 9-5 decision over Aaron Kelley at 174 pounds. However, Chris Daggett was able to make an early move on Zach Ulm and score a first-period pin (1:37) to give Liberty the win in the ping-pong battle in Fairfax, Va., on Feb. 17.
In more recent action, George Mason nearly picked up its second dual victory this calendar year, but Tovuujav was only able to give the Patriots three points with a decision win at 174 pounds and knot the dual, 18-18, at Binghamton on Sunday in Vestal, N.Y.
George Mason led the dual early with Binghamton, the same team Liberty dropped a 25-15 dual to at the Binghamton Quad in December, but the Bears rallied to secure a tie in CAA league action.
The Patriots come into their Senior Night event with a 3-9-1 dual record, with their last dual win coming in a 33-16 victory over Sacred Heart at the CAA Duals on Jan. 16.
George Mason's other two victories have come over VMI (25-9), a team Liberty defeated 27-9 on Jan. 27, and Duquesne (25-15), a program Liberty will square off against at the NCAA East Regional Championships.
The Patriots are paced by Tovuujav, who comes into the evening riding an 11-match winning streak. Following a pair of wins over nationally ranked grapplers this past weekend, the 174-pounder earned CAA Wrestler of the Week honors for the third time and is currently ranked No. 12 nationally with a 27-7 record.
Next on George Mason's wins list is Brian Wright, who will be one of three seniors wrestling in their final home event on Thursday (along with Andrew Rock at 184 pounds and Bill Widener at 197 pounds).
A pair of wins over the weekend, one by forfeit against Bucknell and a 1-0 decision against Binghamton, helped raise his record to 18-10. Wright is 2-0 in previous action against the Flames, having picked up a forfeit win in 2009 and a 5-2 decision over Sean Katz in 2008.
The only other George Mason grappler with previous success against the Flames is Frankie McLaughlin, who is 11-6 on the season at 165 pounds. In two previous matchups with Liberty, McLaughlin wrestled at 157 pounds and posted a pair of decision wins over Julian Colon (3-2 in 2008 and 10-3 in 2009).
Liberty is coming off its fourth setback to a nationally ranked program on the season, as the Flames took only one of 10 weight classes in a 39-3 loss to No. 23 Rutgers inside the Vines Center on Senior Night, last Friday.
Knowles was the lone Flame to record a win, as the 184-pounder scored a hard-fought 9-5 decision over Jesse Boyden to keep the Flames from being shut out for just the second time in the 24-year history of the program (spans 370 dual events).
A win on Thursday night would give the Flames (9-9-0) their fourth-straight season with 10 or more victories under head coach Jesse Castro. A victory would also inch the four-year skipper one win closer to his 50th career victory, as Castro enters the home stretch of Liberty's regular-season schedule with a 48-38-2 career coaching mark.
Liberty's leader, Frankie Gayeski, will be looking to get back on track against George Mason after suffering a loss by fall against Rutgers' David Greenwald, last Friday.
The first-period loss (1:00) snapped a three-match winning streak for Gayeski and leaves the 149-pounder's record at 22-6 on the year. Gayeski did prove victorious last year in Fairfax, Va., when he recorded a 3-2 decision win over Brandon Bucher.
Fellow team captain Chad Porter will be looking to join Gayeski in the 20-win club, as the junior comes into the matchup against the Patriots with a 19-9 mark on the season. The 165-pounder was unable to take to the mats against No. 23 Rutgers on Friday and is riding a four-match winning streak, a run that includes two major decision wins and a victory by fall.
Following Liberty's matchup with George Mason on Thursday, the Flames will travel to Boone, N.C., to square off against Appalachian State on Tuesday in their regular-season finale.
After the Appalachian State dual, the Flames will not return to the wrestling mats until March 6, when they travel to Millersville, Pa., for the NCAA East Regional Championships.
Liberty will enter the tournament as the three-time defending champion, an event that has helped the Flames send 14 grapplers to the NCAA national championships over the last three years.
Probable Starters for Liberty vs. George Mason Dual:
125 – Jonathan Childress (10-12)
133 – Joe Pantaleo (11-11)
141 – Scott Clymer (17-10)
149 – Frankie Gayeski (22-6)
157 – Shaun Smith (15-8)
165 – Chad Porter (19-9)
174 – Brad Clark (15-11)
184 – Nick Knowles (14-13)
197 – Jacobi Johnson (9-18)
285 – Josh Pelletier (12-7)
George Mason (3-9-1)
125 – Brian Wright (18-10)
133 – Denny Herndon (7-9) or Zachory Huxford (8-9)
141 – Jaaziah Bethea (11-14)
149 – Brandon Bucher (12-13)
157 – Aaron Keeton (6-16)
165 – Frankie McLaughlin (11-6)
174 – No. 12 Mendbagana Tovuujav (27-7)
184 – Andrew Rock (2-8) or Jimmy Webb (4-15)
197 – Bill Widener (7-10)
285 – Adam Barnette (0-5) or Hunter Manspile (2-15)