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NCAA Preview with Porter and Knowles
|Liberty's Nick Knowles and Chad Porter|
In total, the Flames will have six wrestlers heading to the nation's elite collegiate wrestling event, which begins on Thursday inside the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb. There are only 14 teams in the country that will be sending more grapplers to the national championships than the Flames, with all 14 being nationally ranked programs.
Today's segment will take a look at a veteran at the national championship in 165-pound qualifier Chad Porter and Liberty's fifth national-qualifying rookie this season in Nick Knowles, at 184 pounds.
After two successful seasons, Porter (R-Jr., Washington, W.Va.) took the 2008-09 season off to focus on his academic endeavors. The 165-pounder is a biology major at Liberty, with a pre-med focus, which he hopes will lead him into a career in radiology after graduation.
During his first two years with the program, Porter quickly showcased his abilities and racked up 61 victories during his freshman and sophomore campaigns (61-32). He dominated the NCAA East Region, taking home the title at each regional championship with three major decision victories and a win by fall.
After two successful runs at the regional level, Porter turned his sights on making a name for himself on the national scene in 2008. After a 0-2 showing the previous year, Porter became the first Flame to record a victory in the championship bracket since 1994, when he upended Kurt Swart of Boise State, 7-4, to open the event.
The win versus the No. 16 ranked grappler in the country pitted him against the event's top seed, Eric Tannenbuam of Michigan, a match he lost to the eventual national runner-up, 10-2.
Porter quickly regrouped and recovered with a 9-2 decision over Cleveland State's Marcus Effner to advance to the next round, where he bowed out the event following a 4-1 decision loss to No. 9 seed Trevor Stewart of Central Michigan. Porter's win over Effner gave Liberty a pair of grapplers in the Round of 16 in 2008, as he joined Tim Harner (141 pounds) in the elite group.
Despite being away from the competitive mats for over a year, Porter still garnered some national attention coming into his redshirt junior season. He was ranked No. 16 at 165 pounds by D1CollegeWrestling.com to start the 2009-10 season.
The Washington, W.Va., native quickly proved he was worthy of the early-season national consideration and that he was back to competitive form. Porter won six of his first nine bouts and finished second at the Keystone Classic, helping the Flames take the event's team title.
Success continued to find Porter throughout the year, enabling him to enter his third go-around at the national championship with a 23-9 record, which ranks second on the team in total wins. His third-straight 20-win season has given the junior 84 career wins, which leads the Flames' active wrestlers in terms of career victories.
Porter, who is just the third three-time Division I national qualifier in program history, will certainly have his hands full on Thursday, when he opens up the 2010 national championship against No. 1 seed Andrew Howe of Wisconsin. Howe is 32-0 on the year and his last loss was a 3-2 decision to Jared King of Edinboro in last year's 165-pound national title bout.
However, tough competition is no stranger to Porter, as the redshirt junior has already faced six of the 33 grapplers in this year's 165-pound field. He has posted a 2-4 mark against his fellow national qualifiers, including wins over UNC Greensboro's Victor Hojilla (10-3) and Binghamton's Matt Kaylor (15-10).
While Porter's position in Liberty's lineup has been set since he joined the program four years ago, Knowles (Jr., Westminster, Calif.) did not find his niche until the middle of this year.
Knowles, a California high school state champion, came to Liberty willing to tangle with anyone three-time NCAA East Region Coach of the Year Jesse Castro would put him up against. His "team-first" mentality eventually saw him garner time in three different weight classes (174, 184 and 197 pounds).
With 2009 national qualifier Aaron Kelley redshirting this season, Knowles found himself in a battle for the starting role at 174 pounds with Brad Clark.
Knowles posted a 4-4 record at the weight class during his first three events, but was once again bumped up a weight class after earlier season 184-pound starter David Zeigler decided to not return to Liberty Mountain for the second semester.
The experience that Knowles gained over the next six weeks might not have shown in the win-loss column (6-7 during the span), but close matches with grapplers from then No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Old Dominion at the Virginia Duals showed he was ready to lock down the starting role in the weight class.
Knowles will be making his first trek to nationals riding a 7-3 record during his last 10 bouts, with two of the three setbacks coming against fellow 184-pound national qualifiers.
His last loss of the regular season was to No. 19 Austin Trotman of Appalachian State. Knowles led Trotman midway through the third until the Mountaineer grappler made a late move to score a takedown and stave off the upset, 5-4.
The second aforementioned loss was to Knowles' first round opponent at this year's national championship. In a home dual against UNC Greensboro, Andrew Saunder picked up his 24th victory of the season by taking a commanding 5-0 lead after five minutes. Knowles was able to score a takedown in the third, but it was not enough, as the Spartan wrestler walked away with the 6-2 decision win.
All-in-all, Knowles has posted a 0-5 record against grapplers in this year's national championship field, including a loss by fall (2:14) to Josh Patterson in the 174-pound bracket, who was wrestling up a weight class when Liberty participated in a quad event at Binghamton on Dec. 12.
Tomorrow, LibertyFlames.com will wrap up its 2010 NCAA National Wrestling Championship lead-in coverage with an in-depth interview with Castro and a look at Liberty's past team experience at the nation's elite Division I collegiate wrestling tournament.