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LU Looks to Take Home Fourth Regional Title

March 5, 2010
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Chad Porter will look to keep his perfect NCAA East Regional record live at tomorrow's champoinship event.

Chad Porter will look to keep his perfect NCAA East Regional record live at tomorrow's champoinship event.

NCAA East Regional Championship
Tournament Central Page - With Link to Live Video
Note: Live video only for 5 p.m. Championship round

Four months of tournament and dual wrestling action have helped prepare the Flames for the 2010 NCAA East Regional Championship, an event Liberty enters as the three-time defending champions.
Since Liberty reinstated its program for the 2006-07 season, the Flames have dominated the NCAA East Regional circuit, including three-straight team wins at the national qualifying event.

The run started in 2007, when an upstart Liberty wrestling program proved it was ready to return to its former glory days with a 17.5-point victory over Gardner-Webb (86-68.5). Four Liberty grapplers qualified for the national championship, while Christian Smith (125 pounds) shared Most Outstanding Wrestler honors with Duquesne's Cody Midlam (157 pounds).

The following year, the Flames once again finished ahead of Gardner-Webb to capture the NCAA East Regional Championship, this time doing it on their home court. Liberty owned the 2008 field, capturing six out of 10 weight class titles. Head coach Jesse Castro was named NCAA East Region Coach of the Year for the second time, after Liberty finished 41 points ahead of the Bulldogs (108.5-67.5).

Last year, Gardner-Webb hoped that bringing the event to its campus would help end Liberty's dominant run. However, the Flames found the mats inside Paul Porter Arena still to their liking, as Liberty made it three team titles in a row.

The Flames finished first or second in seven out of the 10 weight class brackets, with four grapplers capturing individual victory and earning trips to the NCAA National Championships. Liberty once again broke the 100-point mark by scoring 101.5 points, which placed the Flames 36.5 points ahead of Millersville. Host Gardner-Webb finished in third place with 54 points.

During the three-year span since Liberty has returned to the wrestling mats, the Flames have had 14 wrestlers qualify for the national championship. During the same time period, this year's field of Campbell (0), Duquesne (4), Gardner-Webb (3) and Millersville (6) have combined for 13 national qualifiers.

Tomorrow, 10 Liberty grapplers will take to the mats inside Pucillo Gymnasium on the campus of Millersville for this year's NCAA East Regional Championship. This year's group, which is broken down by weight class below, will look to help the Flames keep control of the region and make it four in a row for Liberty's grapplers.

125 Pounds – Jonathan Childress (Fr., Red Lion, Pa.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:

Jonathan Childress will be one of four first-time regional wrestlers for the Flames this year and the rookie will be looking to overcome a tough last month of competition.

Childress, who will be wrestling just 45 miles from his hometown of Red Lion, Pa., won four of his last five bouts in the month of January to raise his record to 10-8. However, February was not too kind to the collegiate rookie, as he dropped all six of his matches during the month.

Two of the six February setbacks were to wrestlers Childress most likely will see on Saturday. At the Eastern Regional Duals, the freshman dropped a 9-3 decision to Gardner-Webb's Michael Slaughter, while suffering a 10-2 major decision loss to Campbell's C.J. Gittens.

133 Pounds – Joe Pantaleo (R-Fr., Stafford, Va.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:

Just like Childress, Joe Pantaleo will be a newcomer at this year's NCAA East Regional Championships. However, this should not be the 133-pounder's first showing at the event.

While competing at 125 pounds as a true freshman, Pantaleo suffered a season-ending injury in his opening match at the Virginia Duals last January.

After receiving a redshirt, Pantaleo has battled back from his injury, while also getting adjusted to a new weight class. However, the Stafford, Va., native seems to be peaking at just the right time.

Pantaleo comes into the weekend the winner of four of his last five bouts, which includes a pair of major decision wins and his first win by fall this year. The two major decision wins came at the Eastern Regional Duals, where he defeated Gardner-Webb's Brett Kostern (12-3) and Campbell's Richie Apolinar (12-1).

141 Pounds – Scott Clymer (R-So., Germansville, Pa.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:

Scott Clymer makes it three-for-three for the Flames in newcomers at this year's event. However, the lack of experience is not due to the redshirt sophomore's ability, but due more to his weight class and position on the roster.

The 141-pound weight division has been owned by Liberty's Tim Harner over the last three years, as Harner captured the weight title each year. In 2008, Harner spotlighted his national qualifying experience by posting a 2-2 record at the event and advancing to the Round of 16.

Clymer seems poised and ready to carry on the strong tradition for the Flames at 141 pounds, as the "Keystone State" native has tied a career high with 18 victories. He has won six of his last seven bouts, including a win by technical fall over Gardner-Webb's Morgan McDaniel and a 5-0 decision over Campbell's Kelin Bidelspach at the Eastern Regional Duals.

149 Pounds – Frankie Gayeski (R-Sr., Malaga, N.J.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
W – Decision over Millersville's Mike Greck, 6-2
L – Fall to Delaware State's Matt Cathell (1:35)

Considered by some as one of the most improved wrestlers in the entire country, Frankie Gayeski enters this year's NCAA East Regional as one of the top grapplers in the field.

After making the switch back to 149 pounds midway through his first season at Liberty, Gayeski was able to make a run to the title bout at the 2009 regional event, where he lost to Delaware State's Matt Cathell.

The senior returned to Liberty for his final go around with renewed vigor and determination last fall and has kept up the pace all season. He started a 15-match win streak by capturing the title at the Keystone Classic and eventually advanced all the way to the semifinals at the Southern Scuffle.

Gayeski enters this year's postseason with a team-leading 24 victories, which has him ranked No. 20 in the country by W.I.N. magazine at 149 pounds. He has won five of his last six bouts, including a 7-4 decision over Gardner-Webb's Ryan Medved and a win by fall over Campbell's Billy Heemer (3:44).

157 Pounds – Shaun Smith (Sr., Washington, W.Va.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event: 5-3
L – Decision to Delaware State's Cody Midlam, 6-0
W – Decision over Gardner-Webb's Brendan Couture, 5-2
L – Decision to Millersville's Jarrett Hostetler, 4-1
W – Decision over Wagner's Sean Quinn, 9-3
L – Decision to Millersville's Jarrett Hostetler, 5-2 (Championship Bout)
W – Fall over Wagner's Nicholas Dalcero (1:55)
W – Decision over Duquesne's Nathan Reinhart, 4-2
W – Decision over Delaware State's Brandon Gardner, 4-3 (4OT)

Shaun Smith enters this year's NCAA East Regional Championship as Liberty's most seasoned wrestler at the event. Smith is the lone grappler on Liberty's roster with experience in each of the Flames' previous three trips to the national qualifying event.

Last year, Smith was able to escape his nemesis at the East Regional Championships, as Millersville's Jarrett Hostetler was redshirting and was not in the field after ending Smith's run the previous two years (which included a loss in the championship bout at home in 2008).

With Hostetler out of the picture, Smith earned his first career trip to the national championship, posting a 3-0 record at last year's event, including a thrilling 4-3 decision over Delaware State's Brandon Gardner in four overtimes.

Smith finds himself in one of the deepest 157-pound fields in recent history, as Hostetler (21-5) has returned to action, along with Gardner-Webb's Alex Medved (20-5).

Smith has already beaten Medved earlier this year (in a 6-4 decision at the Eastern Regional Duals), helping Liberty's senior enter his potential final weekend of collegiate competition having won nine of his last 10 bouts.

165 Pounds – Chad Porter (R-Jr., Washington, W.Va.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
W – Major decision over Millersville's Derrick Evans, 8-0
W – Major decision over Gardner-Webb's Matthias Piasecki, 16-4 (Championship Bout)
W – Major decision over Gardner-Webb's Brendan Couture, 13-5
W – Fall over Delaware State's Brandon Gardner (6:24)

Just like Shaun Smith was able to benefit from Millersville's Jarrett Hostetler not being in last year's 157-pound field, NCAA East Regional grapplers at 165 pounds were able to do the same with Chad Porter redshirting for the 2008-09 season.

Porter, Liberty's active career wins leader with 87 victories, had dominated the regional field during his first two showings at the national qualifying event.

As a freshman, Porter won both his bouts by major decision, including a 16-4 victory over Gardner-Webb's Matthias Piasecki, in the third highest scoring dual of his career. In 2008, Porter once again went 2-0, this time wining by major decision and fall.

Porter enters this weekend as the Flame with the longest active winning streak at six bouts, including a win by fall over Gardner-Webb's David Pelsang (3:49) and a major decision win over Campbell's Peter Comis (12-2).

If Porter wins this weekend, he would become the fifth grappler in program history to qualify for the NCAA Division I national championship three times.

174 Pounds – Brad Clark (R-So., Audubon, Pa.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event: 1-1
W – Fall over Campbell's Steve Wiktorek (1:56)
L – Decision to Millersville's Jeremy Brooks, 1-0 (Championship Bout)

With Chad Porter sitting out the 2008-09 season, Brad Clark was able to drop down a weight class and gain some valuable experience, which should prove beneficial at this year's NCAA East Regional Championship.

Clark nearly kept Liberty's string of title winners at 165 pounds alive, as the then redshirt freshman took Millersville's Jeremy Brooks to the brink of defeat. However, the more experienced grappler was able to squeeze out a late escape point to secure a 1-0 victory in the championship bout to keep Clark from nabbing the national-qualifying mark.

Clark started this year as one of the hottest Flames on the roster, as he was keeping up with the earlier successes of fellow teammates Frankie Gayeski (149 pounds) and Scott Clymer (141 pounds).

After a perfect 3-0 record at the Binghamton Quad, plus an opening-round decision over Navy's Michael Billings at the Southern Scuffle, Clark stood with a 13-4 record. However, a 9-0 major decision setback to No. 19 Justin Zeerip of Michigan sent Clark into a minor tailspin, where he lost six-straight bouts, with five coming by major decision and the last by fall.

However, Clark seems to have righted the ship of late, winning four of his last seven bouts. The redshirt sophomore was deemed Liberty's Most Outstanding Wrestler at the Eastern Regional Duals, as he posted a pair of wins by fall over Gardner-Webb's Vincent Sayler (2:01) and Campbell's John Merickel (1:52) in the first round.

184 Pounds – Nick Knowles (Jr., Westminster, Calif.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event: 0-2
L – Major decision to Gardner-Webb's Dustin Porter, 8-0
L – Decision to Duquesne's Dave Mitchell, 3-1

Since the California high school state champion first made the trek across the country to wrestle for head coach Jesse Castro, Nick Knowles has been willing to wrestle just about anywhere for the Flames.

The junior has racked up 33 career victories, wrestling in three different weight classes (174, 184 and 197 pounds). Two years ago, Knowles gained his first NCAA East Regional Championship experience when he completed as a freshman at home at 197 pounds.

Knowles found himself still moving up and down the weight class list earlier this year, as he has wrestled at both 174 and 184 pounds. However, he seems to have settled into Castro's lineup at 184 pounds of late, having wrestled in this weight class for 18-straight bouts.

Knowles comes into this year's regional off a "promising loss", as he nearly upset No. 19 Austin Trotman of Appalachian State in the team's final dual match. Knowles led 4-3 late in the bout, but could not keep the ranked Mountaineer from scoring a late takedown, preventing Knowles' fifth-straight win.

Of the four wins prior to the one-point loss to Trotman, two were at the Eastern Regional Duals, where the junior easily racked up points. He opened the event with a 13-4 major decision over Gardner-Webb's Jonathan Velazquez and closed with an 11-6 decision over Campbell's Derek Tomasone.

197 Pounds – Jacobi Johnson (Jr., Goldsboro, N.C.)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event: 1-1
L – Decision to Campbell's Parker Burns, 11-8
W – Fall over Wagner's Mark Wagner (2:26)
L – Decision to Gardner-Webb's Matthias Piasecki, 3-2

The 197-pound weight class has not been kind to the Flames since the program returned, evident in Liberty picking up just two victories in the weight class during three different NCAA East Regional Championships.

However, Jacobi Johnson is responsible for one of those two wins, as he scored a late first-period takedown over Wagner's Mark Wagner (2:26) in the consolation bracket of last year's national-qualifying event. Following the win, Johnson dropped a hard-fought, 3-2 decision to Gardner-Webb's Matthias Piasecki in the third-place bout.

Close matches have been a theme for Johnson of late, as four of his last five bouts have been decided by two or fewer points.

A pair of those close bouts came at this year's Eastern Regional Duals, where he dropped a 3-1 decision to Gardner-Webb's Travis Porter in overtime, before capturing a 5-4 win over Campbell's Parker Burns. Following the regional preview event, Johnson took Rutgers' Lamar Brown to the last second, before the No. 18 ranked grappler was able to sneak away with a 3-1 win.

285 Pounds – Josh Pelletier (R-Jr., Charleston, Maine)
2009-10 Record:
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:

Just like Scott Clymer at 141 pounds, Josh Pelletier has been waiting in the wings for his chance to crack the lineup for the NCAA East Regional Championship.

Pelletier was the understudy of Liberty's Patrick Walker, who won the individual title in 2007 and 2008, while he redshirted last year, which allowed Gardner-Webb's Dustin Porter to grab the title in his first year at the upper weight class.

Pelletier comes into the weekend with a 14-7 record, with all seven of his losses coming at the hands of some of the best grapplers in the nation.

Five of his seven setbacks have been to wrestlers ranked inside the Top 20 at the time of the match. Pelletier's only two losses at the Southern Scuffle were to Top 20 grapplers in low-scoring affairs, where he dropped a 2-0 decision to No. 16 Josh Arnone of Cornell and a 2-1 setback to No. 19 Brendan Barlow of Kent State.

The other two losses were to equally as impressive wrestlers. The first was a 2-1 loss to Gardner-Webb's Porter, who is now ranked as high as No. 12 in the country, at the Eastern Regional Duals. The last was a 3-1 triple overtime loss to Josh Wine of VMI, who raised his record to 15-0 on the year with the victory.

Today's weight class preview brings to a close LibertyFlames.com's week-long, lead-in coverage of the 2010 NCAA East Regional Championships.

The event opens tomorrow with weigh-ins at 10:30 a.m. inside Millersville's Pucillo Gymnasium. The first round of competition will begin at 12:30 p.m., with the 10 weight class victors begin crowned during the championship session at 5 p.m.

As the web site has done at two previous tournaments, LibertyFlames.com will be mat side blogging live throughout the event. The blog, which will go live around Noon on Saturday, will be the best way for Liberty's wrestling fans to keep up-to-date throughout the entire event.

In addition to the live blog, which will provide updated brackets following each round, Millersville will be providing a live video stream of the championship round. The video stream is free of charge, following registration.