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Flames Seek Fifth-Consecutive Regional Title

March 5, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Redshirt senior Josh Pelletier seeks his first NCAA East Regional title, Sunday, while also trying to help the Flames capture a fifth-straight team title at the event in the Vines Center.

After starting competition in early November, the Liberty wrestling team now sets its eyes on their season-long goal: a fifth-consecutive NCAA East Regional Championship. In this year's NCAA Championship qualifying event, the Flames will look to continue their dominance, having won the previous three team titles by an average of 38 points per year.

In 2007, the newly reinstated program achieved head coach Jesse Castro's goals, which were displayed at a Flames Club luncheon. In his first appearance as the new leader of the program, the former Liberty grappler stated that the team would win the NCAA East Region in the first year back on the mats. The team did just that, crowning four individual champions and earning 86 team points to edge out Gardner-Webb by 17.5 points.

The following year, Liberty hosted the regional event and scored 108.5 team points to edge out Gardner-Webb once again. This time the spread was larger, with Liberty winning by 41 points thanks to six Flames winning their respective weight classes.

Gardner-Webb hosted the tournament in 2009, but it wouldn't prove to be any advantage, as the Flames picked up their third-straight title, with Millersville claiming runner-up honors that season with 65 points. Liberty once again surpassed 100 points, scoring 101.5 team points in the event. Four Flames once again earned an individual title to continue their post seasons.

Last year, at Millersville's Pucillo Gymnasium, Liberty walked away with its fourth-straight regional crown, once again having six grapplers move on to the national event. Gardner-Webb returned as the runner-up, but still sat 36 behind the dominant performance of Liberty.

The Flames' performance last season was their most dominant of all, having a grappler compete in nine of the ten weight-class championships. This enabled the squad to accumulate 110.5 points, the most in their four years.

Adding up the success, Liberty has moved 20 of its wrestlers to the national tournament, which totals half of the East Region's allocated spots in the last four years. Millersville has been the next closest team in that category, advancing eight grapplers to the NCAAs.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Flames send 10 wrestlers to the mats to try to capture a fifth-straight title. Below is a look at each grappler which will look to win their respective weight class and maintain Liberty's dominance in the region with another crown.

125 Pounds – Robert Jillard (Fr. – Franklinville, N.J.)
2010-11 Record:
18-10
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

Jillard will be one of six Flames entering their first NCAA East Regional Championship. Despite the lack of experience, Jillard, and the other five Liberty rookies to the event, have shown they know how to come out on top.

A two-time New Jersey state placewinner, Jillard ranks second on the team in both wins (18) and wins by fall (6), trailing only redshirt senior, Chad Porter in both categories. The Franklinville, N.J., native has been tested this year, competing against five top-20 grapplers (according to InterMat rankings at the time of competition). This included three very close defeats, while Jillard also knocked off wrestlers who were noted in additional top 30 rankings.

After a fairly solid start to the season, Jillard began to roll beginning with an individual title at the Davidson Open on Dec. 4. After that, the 125-pounder won two matches at the Reno Tournament of Champions (Dec. 19), then wrapped up the regular season by winning six of his last seven bouts.

Jillard has not faced any of his East Region foes this season, as fellow Flame Joel Stafford competed against the other teams.

133 Pounds – T. J. Mitchell (R-Jr. – Hazlet, N.J.)
2010-11 Record:
17-14
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

While a seasoned veteran, this will be Mitchell's first go around at the NCAA East Regional Championship. Last year Mitchell was behind NCAA qualifier, Joe Pantaleo, and Christian Smith held a stronghold on 133 pounds for the Flames before that.

Mitchell compiled a 17-14 record during his redshirt junior campaign, giving him a career high in wins. During his freshman season, the Hazlet, N.J., native won 13 bouts, also at 133 pounds.

The 133-pounder comes into the event on a hot streak of his own, also winning six of his last seven times out on the mat. His sole loss during that stretch was a defeat to the No. 10 ranked grappler in the nation, Devin Carter of Virginia Tech.

Mitchell also boasts a tournament success this season, placing second at the Appalachian Open on Jan. 29. The Flame is 3-0 against East Region competitors this season, including a 1-0 mark over Alex Hamm, who is in the 133 pound bracket for Gardner-Webb.

141 Pounds – Seth Hicks (R-Fr. – Bakersfield, Calif.)
2010-11 Record:
9-12
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

Hicks is the third Flame at the top of the weight-class line up who will gain his first East Region experience. However, the redshirt freshman has several impressive wins on the year, including a win against Maryland's John Kohler in the Flames' 21-17 win over the Terrapins in November.

Shortly after the success in College Park, Md., the Bakersfield, Calif., native went 3-2 at the Keystone Classic (Nov. 21) to place fifth in his first collegiate tournament.

Hicks saw limited action against his East Region competitors, just competing against Richie Spicel in the East Regional Duals held at Millersville. Spicel gained the upper hand, taking a slim 10-8 decision in a back and forth battle.

149 Pounds – Peter Crawford (Sr. – Chesapeake, Va.)
2010-11 Record:
7-12
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

Another first-timer for the Flames, Crawford holds experience and has shown intensity during his match ups throughout the 2010-11 season.

The senior has stepped into his role at 149 this season, and posted a 1-1 record against East Region opponents this season. His loss came to top-seeded Ryan Medved of Gardner-Webb, while the Millersville opponent he knocked off at the Regional Duals is not competing.

Crawford has faced tough opponents this season, including grapplers from Michigan and Virginia in the Virginia Duals, as well as nationally ranked Kevin LeValley of Bucknell and Ivan Lopouchanski of UNC Greensboro. No matter the opponent, it is assured Crawford will put his best foot forward, especially considering he is a past winner of Liberty wrestling's Unsung Hero award.

157 Pounds – Julian Colon (R-Jr. – East Petersburg, Pa.)
2010-11 Record:
15-12
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
2-1
2009 (174 pounds)
W – Decision over Delaware State's Kyle Skinner, 2-1
W – Decision over Duquesne's Ryan Sula, 10-6
L – Decision to Millersville's Shane Smith, 4-1

Colon marks the first Liberty grappler in the lineup with previous NCAA East Regional experience. However, that experience came two years ago and at 174 pounds.

Colon's 15-12 record this season ranked him fifth on the squad in wins, competing at 157 pounds all year. Part of this record included three wins at both the Reno Tournament of Champions and the Southern Scuffle, two of the toughest tournaments in the nation.

Colon is 2-1 against East Region opponents this season, and 1-1 against grapplers in his bracket. Colon defeated Jake Fose of Campbell, 8-5, while top-seeded Alex Medved defeated the redshirt junior, 9-7. Medved holds the top seed, and Colon will look to avenge his loss if the two meet.

The East Petersburg, Pa., native won his five of his last seven bouts in the regular season, with one loss coming to No. 5 ranked Jesse Dong of Virginia Tech. His five wins included two by fall, as well as a technical fall.

165 Pounds – Chad Porter (R-Sr. – Washington, W. Va.)
2010-11 Record:
19-9
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
6-0
2007
W – Major decision over Millersville's Derrick Evans, 8-0
W – Major decision over Gardner-Webb's Matthias Piasecki, 16-4 (Championship Bout)
2008
W – Major decision over Gardner-Webb's Brendan Couture, 13-5
W – Fall over Delaware State's Brandon Gardner (6:24) (Championship Bout)
2010
W – Fall over Campbell's Chris Mazzatta (4:05)
W – Major decision over Millersville's Jeremy Brooks, 12-1 (Championship Bout)

Porter is the Flames' most decorated wrestler in East Regional competition, as the redshirt senior has captured the crown in each of his attempts. Tack on an undefeated 11-0 mark at East Regional Duals in his career, and Porter holds a record of 19-0 against East Region opponents.

Porter also reached 100 career wins this season, with the milestone victory coming against Millersville's Brandon Vernalli at the East Regional Duals.

The Washington, W. Va., native's 19-9 record led the squad during the regular season, while he also notched eight of those wins by fall to lead the team.

This season, Porter is 2-0 against his competitors who are in his bracket for the NCAA East Regional Championships.

The three-time national qualifier will look to make it four for four this Sunday in East Regional titles, when he hits the mats at the Vines Center for the last time of his career.

174 Pounds – Royal Brettrager II (Fr. – Kirtland, Ohio)
2010-11 Record:
11-11
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

Another rookie to East Regional Championships, Brettrager brings a unique style to the mats for the Flames. The freshman has come out on top many times this season after seemingly being stuck in a defensive position.

The Kirtland, Ohio, native started his collegiate career off with a bang, winning four of his first five bouts, with each coming by fall. His lone loss during that opening stretch was to No. 11 ranked Mike Letts of Maryland.

If he's able to make it to Philadelphia for the national event, he'll look for more success in the City of Brotherly Love, as he finished in sixth place at the Keystone Classic early in the year.

Brettrager faced a small slump at the end of the year, but finished the season with a pin against Appalachian State's Carter Downs (4:35) in the Flames season-ending win over the Mountaineers.

The only East Region opponent that Brettrager faced this season was Campbell's Peter Comis, who he knocked off 10-8 in the Flames 38-8 win over the Fighting Camels.

184 Pounds – Aaron Kelley (R-Sr – Mineral Wells, W. Va.)
2010-11 Record:
11-4
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
4-1
2008 (174 pounds)
W – Technical fall over Wagner's Peter Morano, 18-2 (5:55)
W – Major decision over Duquesne's Scott Black, 16-5
W – Fall over Millersville's Jeremy Brooks (6:28) (Championship Bout)
2007 (149 pounds)
W – Fall over Duquesne's Brandon Baldini (4:55)
L – Decision to Millersville's Cody Becker, 6-5

This will be Kelley's third go around at the East Regional Championship, and his third weight class to compete in. After going 1-1 in 2007 at 149 pounds, Kelley claimed the title at 174 pounds in 2008 with a 3-0 showing at the tournament.

This season, the redshirt senior struggled some with a shoulder injury, but has finished the season strongly. Kelley finished his year with an 11-4 mark, with three of his losses coming to top 20 ranked opponents.

The Mineral Wells, W. Va., native finished the season by winning eight of his last nine bouts, with the eight wins coming in succession. Against East Region opponents, Kelley was 3-0, winning one by fall and two by technical fall.

Kelley will look for similar results this Sunday, as he looks to reach the national event for a second time.

197 Pounds – Aaron Thompson (Jr. – Vinton, Va.)
2010-11 Record:
14-12
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
None

Thompson has been one of Coach Castro's "pleasant surprises" this season, as the junior has gone 14-12 in his first year competing in the starting lineup for Liberty.

The Vinton, Va., native excelled in dual meets this season, posting a 12-8 mark, including rolling off eight-straight wins at the start of the year.

Thompson's highlight this season came against George Mason, when he was bumped up to heavyweight with the Flames needing a victory to win the dual meet. He came through, defeating Hunter Manspile, 4-1 despite at least an 80-pound advantage for the Patriot grappler.

Against East Region opponents, Thompson went 2-1 this season. His loss came to the top-seeded Travis Porter of Gardner-Webb, but only by a 3-0 decision.

285 Pounds – Josh Pelletier (R-Sr. – Charleston, Maine)
2010-11 Record:
16-7
Previous NCAA East Regional Experience:
Career Record at Event:
1-1
2010
W – Major decision over Duquesne's Nadeem Farah, 8-0
L – Decision to Gardner-Webb's Dustin Porter, 5-2 (Championship Bout)

Redshirt senior Pelletier rounds out the Flames' lineup for the NCAA East Regional Championship. Pelletier had his most successful season on the mats for Liberty, posting 16 victories and going 13-5 in dual meets, which allowed him to lead the team in dual points scored.

Pelletier earned a fourth-place finish at the Keystone Classic this year to also encounter tournament success.

After being Patrick Walker's understudy for several years, Pelletier had his first crack at the regional event last season, coming up one victory short of a title. This year, the Charleston, Maine, native is driven to reach the NCAA Tournament, and has the resume to back it up.

Against his East Region opponents, Pelletier is a perfect 4-0. His closest bout came against Campbell's Parker Burns in a slow, defensive battle when the Camels visited Lynchburg. He defeated Burns, who is a past national qualifier at 197 pounds, by a score of 3-2.


Today's weight-by-weight preview of the Flames' 10-man lineup concludes LibertyFlames.com's lead-in coverage for the NCAA East Regional Championship.  Fans not able to travel to the Vines Center can check for updates throughout Sunday afternoon by visiting "Game Day Central," where various links will be provided for complete tournament coverage.