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Flames Back in Action in Greensboro
With nine duals on tap in February, the Flames kick off the month by making their second trip of the year to Greensboro, N.C., where they will battle UNC Greensboro in a dual meet on Wednesday at 4 p.m. inside the Spartans' Fleming Gymnasium.
The Flames first outing in Greensboro this season was at the Southern Scuffle (Dec. 29-30). In a field of 34 teams, the Flames came away with a 27th-place showing while competing without several starters in one of the most competitive tournaments in the country.
After beginning the season with a 6-3 dual meet record, the squad has faced a challenging schedule as of late and looks to use a 24-15 win at Bucknell (Jan. 23) to fuel the remainder of the season.
The Flames' victory in Lewisburg, Pa., set their dual meet record to 7-6 and snapped a three-bout losing streak, including dropped decisions to No. 15 Michigan and Virginia at the Virginia Duals (Jan. 7). Each of those programs have been ranked inside the NWCA/USA Today's Coaches Poll throughout the season. While Virginia was not ranked at the time of the meeting, they have been ranked as high as No. 23 this season and three of their five overall loses have come at the hands of top 25 programs.
The Flames' defeat of Bucknell also snapped a three-bout losing streak to the Bison. Liberty's only other victory in the six-match series history between the programs came on January 19, 2007, with the Flames edging the Bison, 25-24, also in Lewisburg.
After opening the year with five consecutive losses, Greensboro has rebounded as of late, winning five of its last seven duals and now sporting a 5-7 overall record. Four of UNC Greensboro's losses have come to top 25 teams, and its three latest wins have come in Southern Conference action.
In those last three times on the mat, the Spartans have outscored their opponents, 80-40, knocking off Davidson (Jan. 16, 37-6), The Citadel (Jan. 23, 22-14) and Appalachian State (Jan. 26, 21-20).
While the Flames and Spartans have only faced one similar opponent at this point in the season, by year end they will have had nine common foes. Bucknell is the lone common opponent. The Spartans and Bison faced each other at the Virginia Duals, with Bucknell coming away with the 21-17 win.
Liberty and UNC Greensboro have also competed in two of the same events on the season. As hosts of the Southern Scuffle, the Spartans notched an 18th-place finish at the tournament, while both teams posted 0-2 records at the Virginia Duals.
Ivan Lopouchanski headlines the Spartan grapplers, as he is No. 16 at 149 pounds in InterMat's latest rankings. The redshirt sophomore has a compiled a 28-7 record this season, scoring tournament titles at the Hokie Open (Nov. 7) and N.C. State Open (Nov. 14) and also placing in the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational (Dec. 3-4) and Southern Scuffle (Dec. 29-30). In the Southern Scuffle, Lopouchanski defeated the Flames' Scott Clymer, 3-2, and Rich Bushby, 5-2.
Heavyweight Peter Sturgeon is also a 20-bout winner this season for the Spartans, producing a 22-10 record during his redshirt junior season. Sturgeon has placed in two events this season, earning a third-place finish at the N.C. State Open and a fifth-place finish at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational.
The Spartans also have a three-time NCAA qualifier in redshirt senior Bryan Sigmon at 174 pounds. He is 18-10 this season, with second and third place finishes at the Hokie Open and N.C. State Open.
After starting his career with a 6-2 record, Royal Brettrager II is facing a mild slump, having his overall record now stand at 10-10. The 174-pounder will look to start a hot streak again as the Flames continue in the second half of the season. Brettrager II holds a 6-5 dual record and has scored 27 team points for Liberty.
Aaron Kelley returned to the starting lineup at 184 pounds last weekend after dealing with a shoulder injury, which kept him out since the Nov. 14 dual with Chattanooga. Kelley went 1-1 in his weekend return, defeating Bucknell's Rob Waltko and dropping a 12-4 decision to Navy's 18th ranked Luke Rebertus.
Josh Pelletier, the Flames heavyweight, leads the squad in several categories this season, including being tied with Aaron Thompson (197 pounds) for dual wins with eight, and having scored 34 points for Liberty in dual meets. Pelletier is 4-2 in his last six times on the mat, and is 8-3 in dual meets this season.
Liberty is still trying to find some consistency in its lineup, as the Flames have used 12 different lineups in 13 duals this season. Because of that, coach Jesse Castro has not had a dual this season that has contained his planned starters from the beginning of the year.
A live scoring feed will be available for the dual with Greensboro on Wednesday afternoon.
As always, updates will also be available on the LibertyFlames Twitter page. Fans wishing to track Liberty Athletics' coverage will need to "follow" the LibertyFlames page by clicking the link at the top of the page
Probable Starters for Liberty vs. UNC Greensboro:
125 – Robert Jillard (13-9) vs. Manny Ramirez (14-10) or Robert Gribschaw (5-4)
133 – T. J. Mitchell (11-13) vs. Jamel Johnson (10-14)
141 – Seth Hicks (8-10) vs. Michael Crowley (2-13) or Angel Garcia (5-9)
149 – Peter Crawford (1-1) vs. Ivan Lopouchanski (30-7)
157 – Julian Colon (10-10) vs,. Matt Barbo (3-7) or Justin Rice (2-8)
165 – Chad Porter (13-7) vs. Brett Miller (10-11)
174 – Royal Brettrager II (10-9) vs. Byron Sigmon (19-10)
184 – Aaron Kelley (4-3) vs. Elijah Adams (7-11)
197 – Aaron Thompson (9-9) vs. Caylor Williams (16-13)
285 – Josh Pelletier (11-5) vs. Peter Sturgeon (23-10) or Mike Gregory (4-8)