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NCAA Wrestling Notes and Preview with Castro

March 17, 2010
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Flames Head coach Jesse Castro
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The Event
The Liberty Flames will be sending six of their 10 starters to the 2010 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, tying a program record for national qualifiers. The three-day event, hosted by Nebraska, is set to kicks off with Session I on Thursday morning inside the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb. The quarterfinals and semifinals will run on Friday, while 10 national champions will be crowned by the end of the day on Saturday.

The Blog is Back
For the second straight event and for the fourth time this year, LibertyFlames.com will be providing a live blog at the 2010 NCAA Wrestling Championships. Follow all the action as Liberty's six national qualifiers grapple with the nation's best wrestlers as the web site will be providing live updates mat side from inside the Qwest Center. The first day's blog will go live at approximately 11:30 a.m. on Thursday for Session 1 and will continue as long as Liberty's best wrestlers make their charge toward a national championship.

Sensational Six
For the second time in program history, the Flames will be sending six grapplers to this year's NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb. The Flames also accomplished the feat two years ago, when Liberty first sent a half-dozen wrestlers to the national championship event in St. Louis, Mo.

Beasts of the East
For the fourth year in a row, the Flames captured the NCAA East Regional Championship, doing so in dominating fashion two weeks ago in Millersville, Pa. Liberty had nine of its 10 starters reach the finals, with six claiming individual titles and the region's automatic national qualifier.

Liberty finished the event with 110.5 team points, besting its previous event high set in 2008. During that year's championship run, the Flames also finished with six national qualifiers and earned 108.5 team points, doing so in front of their own fans inside the Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va., on March 9.

Welcome to the Big Show
This weekend, five of Liberty's six national qualifiers will be making their first career trip to the national championships when they make the trek to Omaha, Neb. Liberty's national championship rookies include Jonathan Childress (125 pounds), Joe Pantaleo (133 pounds), Scott Clymer (141 pounds), Frankie Gayeski (149 pounds) and Nick Knowles (184 pounds).

A Seasoned Veteran
After a redshirt season, Chad Porter returns to the national scene where he made a Round of 16 run during the 2008 national championships. The 165-pounder posted a 2-2 record in 2008, which including a championship bracket victory over Boise State's Kurt Swart (Dec., 7-4) and a consolation round win over Cleveland State's Marcus Effner (Dec., 9-2).

Porter captured his third career NCAA East Regional title two weeks ago in Millersville, Pa., becoming the third grappler in Liberty's history to become a three-time national qualifier. Also accomplishing the feat were Steve Dernlan (142/150 pounds, 1991-92-93) and Tim Harner (141 pounds, 2007-08-09).

Back on the Mats
Bucking the national trend where collegiate athletics departments are dropping sports, Liberty returned one of its more successful programs to Division I status four years ago. Following a 12-year hiatus, the Flames returned to the mats for the 2006-07 season, where they won the NCAA East Regional Championship and finished tied for 49th place at the NCAA National Wrestling Championships.

National Success
Liberty is no stranger to success on the national level, as the Flames achieved national prominence almost immediately after starting its program for the 1974-75 season. In just their third year of existence, the Flames captured the 1977 NCCAA national championship, their first of five-straight National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association titles.

During its three seasons at the NAIA level, Liberty was a Top 20 finisher each season (1981-83), while the Flames posted five-straight NCAA Division II Top 20 finishes from 1984-88.

Keeping the Streak Alive
Outside of its 12-year hiatus (1995-2006), Liberty has sent at least one wrestler to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships every year since 1986. Perry Ainscough was Liberty's first grappler to compete at the nation's elite collegiate wrestling championship, where he posted a 1-2 record in 1986, opening with a 10-0 major decision over Kent State's Mark Adkins.

Grappling with the Best
Liberty earned its first team point at the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in 1989, eventually finishing in a tie for 61st place in Oklahoma City. As a team, Liberty has placed at the event during seven of its last nine showings (outside its 12-year hiatus from 1995-2006), including a program-best 41st place in 1991 (with five points). Since returning to the mats for the 2006-07 season, Liberty has placed inside the Top 60 each year at the national championship, including a three-year best tie for 49th place in 2007 (with three points).

Castro is King of the East
For the third time in four years, Liberty's head coach Jesse Castro was named the NCAA East Region Coach of the Year. The four-year skipper led Liberty to its fourth-straight regional title in Millersville, Pa., on March 6, thanks to six individual champions. Castro was also selected the East Region Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008, after leading Liberty to its first two regional titles.

50 is Nifty
In just four short years, head coach Jesse Castro has returned the Flames to a position of national prominence. With Liberty's season-ending victory over SoCon member Appalachian State, 25-10, Castro pushed his four-year career coaching record to 50-38-2. Castro currently ranks third in program history behind Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame coach Bob Bonheim (118-21/12 seasons) and Don Shuler (61-66-5/eight seasons).

Tournament Type of Team
The Flames have found much success on the tournament circuit this season, winning two of the four team events that Liberty entered. Liberty picked up its first team championship outside of the NCAA East regional since the program was reinstated with a first-place finish at the Keystone Classic on Nov. 22. The Flames posted 128 team points, finishing ahead of then nationally ranked programs Penn (No. 24) and Duke (No. 25).

To close out the 2009 calendar year, the Flames had four grapplers advance to the second day of the Southern Scuffle, including semifinalist Frankie Gayeski at 149 pounds. Behind a solid team effort, the Flames finished 16th out of 31 programs.

Finally, Liberty captured its fourth-straight NCAA East Regional Championship on March 6, posting 110.5 team points in Millersville, Pa., thanks to six individual weight class victors.

Winners On and Off the Mats
Not only have the Flames dominated the NCAA East Region since returning to the mats for the 2006-07 season, but Liberty has also set new program standards in the classroom. In 2008, Liberty ranked No. 3 in the NWCA All-Academic Top 20 team rankings with a 3.29 team GPA, while finishing No. 20 in last year's listing (2.98 GPA). Additionally, Liberty was one of eight NCAA Division I wrestling programs to be recognized for the NCAA APR efforts in 2009, as they received Top 10 percentage acknowledgement.

Joining the Club
Chad Porter ranks second on Liberty's roster with 23 wins on the season. The 165-pounder's third-straight 20-win season has given him 84 career wins (84-41), which moves him into Liberty's Eagle Medal Club at the Silver level. The Club, established to recognize Liberty's best grapplers, includes six wrestlers at the Gold level (100-plus career wins) and six more at the Silver level (80-99 career wins). One of the six wrestlers at the Gold level is Flames head coach Jesse Castro, as the 1981 graduate finished his career with a 101-20-2 record.

Leader of the Pack
Frankie Gayeski currently leads the Flames on the season with 26 wins, more than doubling his first-year total with the Flames, last year (12-17) after transferring from Lehigh. Currently ranked No. 20 in the latest W.I.N. Magazine national rankings at 149 pounds, Gayeski has had a stellar season, which includes individual titles at the Keystone Classic and NCAA East Regional Championships and a fourth-place showing at the Southern Scuffle.

Family Affair
Liberty's 133-pound national qualifier Joe Pantaleo might be making his first trip to the national wrestling championships this season, but he is going to have a family member alongside him with prior knowledge and success at the national event. Pantaleo's uncle by the same name, Joe Pantaleo, is currently in his first season on Liberty's coaching staff as an assistant coach. The elder Joe was a two-time All-American at Michigan, where he finished as a national runner-up in 1988 and 1989 at 158 pounds.

Brotherly Love
Scott and Carol Clymer, parents of Liberty's 141-pound national qualifier Scott Clymer, will finally have an easy choice when choosing which college tournament to attend this weekend. Both of their sons, Scott and Ben, have qualified for this year's NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship in Omaha, Neb.

Scott Clymer finished with a 19-10 record, after winning six of his last seven matches, including the national qualifier at the NCAA East Regional Championship. Scott's brother, Ben, also qualified for this year's national championship, as the Hofstra grappler took second place at the CAA Championships and enters the 184-pound bracket with a 24-7 record on the season.

Joining the Elite
Liberty is sending six of its 10 starting grapplers to this year's NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships in Omaha, Neb. There are only 14 other programs who are sending more than six grapplers to this year's national championship event, with all 14 being nationally ranked programs. Liberty is one of 13 programs in this year's field with exactly six national qualifiers.

38 and Climbing
Since the program returned from a 12-year hiatus for the 2006-07 season, the Flames have sent 20 wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Prior to the program being disbanded after the 1993-94 season, Liberty sent 18 grapplers to the nation's most prestigious collegiate tournament from 1986 to 1994, giving Liberty 38 Division I national qualifiers in program history.

A Top 25 Type of Program
When head coach Jesse Castro restarted Liberty's wrestling program four years ago, the skipper's goal was to establish a Top 25 program. Although Liberty has not quite cracked the national rankings yet, the Flames do find themselves among the nation's elite in terms of national qualifiers. Over the last four years, the Flames have sent 20 wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships and only 23 programs can say they have sent more.

Ranking below Liberty in terms of total national qualifiers over the last four years are 10 currently Top 30 programs, including: No. 15 Harvard (12), No. 16 American (16), No. 17 Maryland (19), No. 20 Duke (4), No. 21 Virginia Tech (17), No. 23 Old Dominion (18), No. 27 Arizona State (16), No. 28 Michigan State (14), No. 29 Wyoming (14) and No. 30 Bucknell (16).