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Flames to Square Off with Hokies
In its final road trip of the regular season, the Liberty wrestling squad places its seven-dual win streak on the line, traveling to Salem, Va., for a matchup with Atlantic Coast Conference foe, and No. 6 ranked, Virginia Tech. The dual-meet is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start at Andrew Lewis Middle School.
The Flames' clash with the Hokies is the team's third meeting on the year with an ACC grappling program, splitting the previous two decisions. In its opening weekend, Liberty knocked off Maryland, 21-17. The Flames later fell to Virginia, 35-3, at the Virginia Duals.
Virginia Tech holds the edge in the series, 6-2. The last meeting came Nov. 5, 2006, with Virginia Tech taking the contest, 40-6. The quad match, hosted by the Hokies, was Liberty's first event after reinstatement. The Flames' two victories in the series came in 1992 and 1979, respectively.
The Hokies are arguably one of the hottest teams in the country as of late, winning six in a row and only dropping two duals since mid-November. Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents 110-9 in its last three outings.
Virginia Tech boasts a 19-4 overall record and is unblemished, 5-0, in ACC competition. Each of the Hokies' losses are to ranked opponents. However, they rectified a 24-19 loss to No. 4 Wisconsin in November by taking down the Badgers, 20-19, at the NWCA National Duals on Jan. 9. After defeating three ranked opponents, including No. 2 Oklahoma State (18-16), to reach the finals of the event, the Hokies fell to top-ranked Cornell in the championship final, 25-10.
Virginia Tech sports a lineup that features six grapplers listed in the latest InterMat rankings. The highest ranking is a No. 5 nod for 157-pounder Jesse Dong. The junior is 14-1 on the year, with all bouts being in dual matches.
The next highest is No. 10 Devin Carter at 133 pounds, who leads the squad with 29 victories on the season. Three more Hokies, Jarrod Garnett (125), Brian Stephens (149) and Pete Yates (165), own No. 14 rankings at their respective weights. Chris Diaz also holds a No. 19 ranking at 141 pounds. Each of these five wrestlers has posted at least 24 wins this season.
If the Flames look to hand a second loss to an ACC this season, the upper weight classes will have to produce against the few Hokies who don't own a national ranking.
Liberty's three redshirt seniors are finishing their season impressively in the upper half of the lineup, with each stringing together strong records during the latter half of the season.
Chad Porter, the Flames' 165-pounder, has taken seven of his last eight bouts and now has 102 career victories. The Parkersburg, W. Va., native leads the team in both wins and wins by fall, with 18 and eight, respectively.
At 184 pounds, Aaron Kelley has claimed victory in his last seven bouts for Liberty. In his last six, the Mineral Wells, W. Va., native has defeated his opponent before the end of regulation, taking four victories by fall and two more by technical fall.
Josh Pelletier has won eight of his last 11 at heavyweight, including his last four bouts. The Charleston, Maine, native is sitting on 15 wins for the year, which ties his career high. Last season Pelletier finished the season with a 15-8 record. He has already set a career high this year with 12 dual wins. His previous career mark was nine wins, also coming last year.
Also in the upper half of Liberty's lineup is Aaron Thompson at 197 pounds. The Vinton, Va., native has won four of his last five times on the mat, despite dropping seven bouts in a row during the middle portion of the season. Thompson also registered a win streak of eight in a row early in the season.
Fans wishing to follow the action on Thursday night will be able to track live stats, which will be provided through the NWCA Live Scorebook.
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. Virginia Tech
125 – Joel Stafford (11-5) or Justin Branham (8-12)
133 – T. J. Mitchell (16-13)
141 – Bobby Leffew (9-12)
149 – Peter Crawford (8-11)
157 – Julian Colon (14-11)
165 – Chad Porter (18-8)
174 – Jonathan Perkins (1-9) or Eli Sanchez (4-16)
184 – Marcus Nielson (2-7) or Aaron Kelley (9-3)
197 – Aaron Thompson (13-11)
285 – Josh Pelletier (15-6) or Jake Wright (0-3)
#6 Virginia Tech (19-4, 5-0 ACC):
125 – #14 Jarrod Garnett (25-7)
133 – #10 Devin Carter (29-5)
141 – #19 Chris Diaz (24-7)
149 – #14 Brian Stephens (26-8) or Cameron Hurd (20-9)
157 – #5 Jesse Dong (14-1)
165 – #14 Pete Yates (25-6)
174 – Matt Epperly (13-12)
184 – John Dickson (16-16)
197 – Chris Penny (10-20)
285 – David Marone (17-7)