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LU Prepares to Face NCAA East Regional Field

March 3, 2010
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Senior Shaun Smith will look to defend his individual 157-pound title at the NCAA East Regional Champiomships this Saturday in Millersville, Pa.

Senior Shaun Smith will look to defend his individual 157-pound title at the NCAA East Regional Champiomships this Saturday in Millersville, Pa.

This weekend, the Flames will make the trek north to Millersville, Pa., where Liberty will look to successfully defend its NCAA East Region Championship, a title the program has captured the last three years.

Liberty is one of five programs that will participate in this year's event, which will be hosted by Millersville inside Pucillo Gymnasium. Wrestlers from Campbell, Duquesne, Gardner-Webb and host Millersville will also be circling the mats along with the Flames, each hoping to capture this year's team championship.

Since Liberty reinstated its program for the 2006-07 season, the Flames have dominated the event, both from a team and individual standpoint.

Liberty's closest margin of victory came at the 2007 NCAA East Regional Championship, where the Flames won by 17.5 points over host Duquesne. Individually, Liberty has captured 14 of the 30 national qualifying bids issued at the three events, a mark that is greater than the combined national qualifiers over this year's current field during the time span.

As part of its continued lead-in coverage to this weekend's event, LibertyFlames.com will take a look at the four other programs in this year's NCAA East Regional field. Tomorrow, the web site will be running an audio interview with head coach Jesse Castro, along with a snapshot of TheOpenMat.com's breakdown of each weight division.

Campbell comes into this year's NCAA East Regional Championship off a season-ending 38-6 setback to UNC Greensboro at home, the same program Liberty dropped a 23-15 contest to inside the Vines Center on Feb. 2.

Liberty and Campbell were scheduled to tangle twice this year, the first coming in a dual match in Lynchburg on Jan. 30 and the second at the Eastern Regional Duals, hosted by Campbell in Buies Creek, N.C., on Feb. 6.

Due inclement weather, the scheduled Lynchburg dual never took place, but the Flames did manage to travel south for the Eastern Regional Duals. Weather played a factor in that event as well, keeping Pennsylvania schools Duquesne and Millersville from traveling.

However, Liberty and Gardner-Webb were able to make the journey, where the Flames posted a perfect 2-0 record. Liberty dominated its matchup with Campbell, posting a 38-4 victory over the Camels in the second session.

The lone Campbell victor during the previous matchup with the Flames was C.J. Gittens (a 10-2 major decision over Jonathan Childress), who is tied for the team lead with a 13-11 overall record. The 125-pounder enters the event on a four-match winning streak and finished third at last year's NCAA East Regional.

Fellow lightweight Richie Apolinar is tied atop Campbell's win list, as the 133-pounder comes into the weekend with a 13-16 mark. One of his 16 losses was a 12-1 major decision to Liberty's Joe Pantaleo at the Eastern Regional Duals.

This will mark Campbell's second showing at the NCAA East Regional Championships. The Camels joined the East Region affiliation last year and finished in fifth place with 45 points, bolstered by a pair of seniors with runner-up finishes at 197 pounds and heavyweight.

This year's NCAA East Regional Championship could be an emotional experience for the Dukes. Duquesne announced in late January that it would be cutting the program at the conclusion of the season (along with baseball, men's swimming and men's golf).

Since the announcement, the Dukes have managed to keep their focus on the mats, which has included winning three of their last five dual events to raise their final dual mark to 5-7.

Liberty and Duquesne were unable to square off this year due to the Dukes not being able to travel to the Eastern Regional Duals. However, the Flames have controlled the series over the last three years, taking two of the three matchups.

Duquesne has claimed the NCAA East Regional Championship title four times in program history, with the most recent coming in 2005 (others include 1994, 1994 and 2000). At last year's event, the Dukes finished sixth out of seven teams with 43 points, with one individual champion.

Last year, Bill Chamberlain captured the title at 125 pounds, posting a 5-1 decision over Gardner-Webb's Cortney Roberts and an 11-6 decision over Millersville's John Andel in the title bout. However, the former Old Dominion grappler has been injured this year and has been unable to compete for the Dukes.

Duquesne's new leader this season has been Josh Pascazi, as the 149-pounder holds a 26-15 record, which includes wins in four of his last five bouts. The sophomore finished third at last year's NCAA East Regional, where he posted three-straight wins in the consolation bracket.

Following behind Pascazi in the total win column are Tony Lascari and Ryan Sula. Lascari has dropped his last three bouts to fall to 15-13 at 141 pounds, while three out of four wins has helped Sula even his 184-pound ledger at 12-12.

During Liberty's time in the East Region, Duquesne has sent four grapplers to nationals, including a pair in 2007, which helped the Dukes finish the event as the team runner-up behind the Flames' first of three-straight title titles.

Like most of the five teams in this year's NCAA East Regional Championship field, Gardner-Webb enters the weekend tournament hoping to keep alive a string of national qualifiers.

The Bulldogs have sent at least one grappler to the national championship each year since the 2002-03 season, including one who will look to make program history this Saturday.

Heavyweight Dustin Porter, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the latest W.I.N. Magazine national rankings, comes into the weekend leading the East Regional field with 31 wins and only five losses.

The senior has walked away as the victor each of his previous three NCAA East Regionals in the heavyweight division, and he will be looking to be the program's first-ever, four-time national qualifier with another win during his last go around. Porter's trio of qualifying marks account for three of Gardner-Webb's four national qualifiers since Liberty returned its program to the East Regional four years ago.

Despite the flashy numbers put up by Porter, Gardner-Webb is not a "one-man show." The Bulldogs have six others on their roster who have posted 10 or more victories, including 20-match victor Alex Medved at 157 pounds. The redshirt freshman will be part of one of the toughest weight divisions on Saturday, also the bracket will include two-time national qualifier Jarrett Hostetter of Millersville and Liberty's Shaun Smith, who took home the national-qualifier bid last year.

Next on the list of top-ranked Gardner-Webb grapplers is Michael Slaughter, a JUCO All-American transfer, who has posted a 15-7 record during his first season with the Bulldogs. He is one of the leading favorites heading into the event, along with Campbell's C.J. Gittens at 125 pounds.

Liberty did have a chance to wrestle against Gardner-Webb at the Eastern Regional Duals, with the Flames opening the event with a 31-9 victory over the Bulldogs.

Gardner-Webb took three decisions during the dual with Slaughter and Porter winning to bookend the dual at 125 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, while Travis Porter escaped with a 3-1 sudden victory win over Jacobi Johnson at 197 pounds.

The remainder of the dual was controlled by Liberty, spotlighted by a pair of pin falls (Chad Porter over David Pelsang at 165 pounds and Brad Clark over Vincent Salyer at 174 pounds) and a technical fall win by Scott Clymer over Morgan McDaniel at 141 pounds. Scott Clymer (at 141 pounds over Morgan McDaniel) and Nick Knowles (at 184 pounds over Jonathan Velazquez) rounded out the five bonus point wins for the Flames on the day.

Host Millersville will be looking to achieve a feat accomplished by the Flames in 2008, as they will be looking to win the NCAA East Regional on their home turf.

The Marauders will serve as this year's host and are coming off their best showing at the NCAA East Regional since Liberty's joined the group four years ago.

In 2007 and 2008, Millersville finished in a tie for third place and in fourth, respectively. However, last year, the Marauders came on strong in Boiling Springs, N.C., capturing three weight classes and finishing runner-up in two more to take second place at the event.

Three of the 10 weight class brackets found a Millersville vs. Liberty grappler matchup, with the Marauders taking two of those three bouts. In total, Millersville has qualified six grapplers over the last three years for the national championships, a mark that ranks only second to Liberty's 14 national qualifiers during the time span in the East Region.

Millersville is led by a pair of 21-match winners, who will be looking to repeat as national qualifiers in their respective weight classes in Shane Smith and Jarrett Hostetter.

Last year, Smith squeezed out a 4-1 decision over Liberty's Julian Colon in the 174 pound division to take the title at the NCAA East Regional, completing a magical 32-win season as a freshman. This year, Smith strung together 11-straight wins during the year and currently stands at 21-7, including a perfect 12-0 record in matches decided by fall.

The second 21-win victor for the Marauders is Hostetter, the 2007 and 2008 NCAA East Regional at 157 pounds, who redshirted last year, which allowed Liberty's Shaun Smith to capture his first qualifying ticket to the national championship.

This year, Hostetter is back and seems ready to regain his title as leader of the East Region in the weight division, as he has won 15 of his last 16 bouts and currently stands at 21-5 on the season. The redshirt senior comes into the weekend with a 124-44 collegiate career record, which includes a 26-5 mark as an unattached wrestler last year.