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NCAA Notes and Preview with Coach Jesse Castro
|Head Coach Jesse Castro.|
As the final installment of lead-in coverage for the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships, the Flames Sports Network's Alan York catches up with wrestling head coach, Jesse Castro.
Castro talks about the grandeur of the national tournament, while also previewing each of the Flames' qualifiers from his perspective. The four Flames who have qualified will begin action tomorrow, with the first session beginning at 11 a.m. from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Liberty will be sending four wrestlers to the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. The tournament, which involves 330 wrestlers in 10 weight classes, begins on Thursday morning at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Rider and the MAAC serve as tournament hosts for the three-day event, which crowns the national champions on Saturday evening.
Following the Flames
2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship coverage will involve a live blog as long as the Flames are still making their run in the national event. The blog will be interactive, as it has been in the other four blogs this season. Look for live blog coverage to begin around 10:30 a.m., a half hour before the opening session is scheduled to begin. Twitter updates on LibertyFlames Twitter page will also be provided throughout the action in Philadelphia.
Liberty sends at least four wrestlers to the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships for its fifth-consecutive year. The Flames sent four during the 2007 and 2009 seasons as well, while 2008 and 2010 saw six Liberty representatives at the event.
East Region Dominance
The Flames won their fifth-consecutive NCAA East Regional Championship on March 6, while hosting the event at the Vines Center. Liberty saw seven of its starters reach the finals, with four winning to earn the automatic bids into the NCAAs.
With the four champions, Liberty ups its national qualifiers to 24 in the past five years. Millersville and Gardner-Webb are second in the East Region in that time span, both sending nine wrestlers to the national event.
Head Coach Jesse Castro earned his fourth East Region Coach of the Year award after Liberty won its fifth-straight regional title on March 6. He has also been honored by receiving the coaches-voted award in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Three of Liberty's four qualifiers are making their first trip to the national championships. True freshmen Rob Jillard (125) and Royal Brettrager (174) reach the NCAAs in their first collegiate season, while redshirt junior T. J. Mitchell (133) won the East Region in his first attempt.
Four for Four
Chad Porter's fourth East Regional title at 165 pounds gives him a perfect 8-0 record in the qualifying tournament and makes him as the first wrestler in Liberty's history to be a four-time NCAA Division I qualifier.
Three Flames have been three-time NCAA qualifiers: Steve Dernlan (142/150 lbs, 1991-92-93), Tim Harner (141 lbs, 2007-08-09) and Christian Smith (125/133 lbs, 2007-08-09).
Redshirt senior Chad Porter leads the Flames with 21 victories this season, giving him 20-win seasons in each of his collegiate seasons. On Feb. 4, Porter defeated Millersville's Brandon Vernalli, 20-5 (7:00), for his 100th career win. This moved Porter up in Liberty's Eagle Medal Club, to the Gold level. Gold honors Liberty wrestlers with over 100 career victories.
Porter is currently tied for sixth on Liberty's all-time wins list with a record of 105-52. He's tied with Perry Ainscough, who went 105-30-3 from 1983-86.
Porter also passed his coach, Jesse Castro, for career wins this season. Castro went 101-20-2 from 1977-81 during his days in a Liberty singlet.
Return for Wrestling
Bucking the national trend where collegiate athletics departments are dropping sports, Liberty returned one of its more successful programs to Division I status five 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 tied for 49th place at the NCAA National Wrestling Championships.
Second to One
Head Coach Jesse Castro improved his career record to 65-44-2 in his five years as the leader of the program, placing him second on Liberty's all-time coaching wins list.
The Flames' 3-0 performance at the East Region Duals (Feb. 4) pushed the skipper's career wins to 62, passing former Liberty Coach Don Shuler. Shuler posted a 61-66-6 record in eight seasons (1987-94) leading the wrestling program.
Liberty Hall of Famer Bob Bonheim is the program's winningest coach, holding a record of 118-34-1 in 12 years as the head coach (1974-86).
The 2010-11 season saw the Flames post a 14-7 dual meet record, including a 21-17 win over 2011 ACC Champions, Maryland, at the season-opening Terrapin Duals (Nov. 6).
The 14 dual wins were the most since the program posted 16 victories in its first season back on the mat (2006-07).
From January 23 to February 13, the Flames rolled off eight-consecutive dual meet victories. This is the second longest single-season win streak for the program, with the longest being a perfect 11-0 season during the 1980-81 campaign. That streak was part of a 33-dual win streak, spanning over four seasons.
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 25 finishes from 1984-88.
A Different Kind of Streak
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.
Too Good to be True
True freshmen Robert Jillard (125) and Royal Brettrager II (174) are making the trip the the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships during their first collegiate season. They become the eighth and ninth Liberty wrestlers to reach the event in their first competitive year.
How to Start a Career
Robert Jillard posted two wins at the NCAA East Regional Championship to reach 20 wins on the year. With his outstanding freshman campaign, Jillard becomes the first Liberty freshman to post 20 wins since 2006-07 when both Chad Porter and Aaron Kelley surpassed the 20-win plateau. Porter won 33 matches, while Kelley won 20.
If the mark is any indicator of success, Jillard is on his way to the Liberty annals, as Porter now has 105 career victories and Kelley finished his career with 75 wins. Kelley's 75 wins join him with Porter in the Eagle Medal Club, at the Bronze level, which honors Liberty grapplers with 60-79 career victories.
Royal Brettrager II opened his collegiate career strong and has finished strong as well. To open the season, Brettrager won four of his first five bouts. Each victory was by fall. To close the season, the freshman has won three in a row, with two coming by fall.
Redshirt junior T. J. Mitchell has won a career-high 19 bouts this season at 133 pounds, upping his previous career high by six wins. This includes winning his opening four bouts of the year, while also producing a streak of five wins later in the season.
Falls All Around
Three of the Flames' four national qualifiers led the team in wins by fall this season. Chad Porter led the way, taking nine bouts with a pin, while Robert Jillard and Royal Brettrager each had six pins this season.
Each of Liberty's four 2011 NCAA Championship qualifiers have placed at a tournament other than the East Regional this season. Robert Jillard took the 125-pound title at the Davidson Open (Dec. 4), T. J. Mitchell was the runner-up at the Appalachian State Open (Jan. 29) at 133 pounds. Chad Porter placed sixth in the Reno Tournament of Champions (Dec. 19), while Royal Brettrager took sixth at the Keystone Classic (Nov. 21)
Keystone State of Mind
Liberty has experienced a lot of success in the Keystone State over the last five years. Their dual record in the state of Pennsylvania during that span is 11-1, while the program has also captured multiple team titles.
Its tournament success includes two NCAA East Regional titles, coming in 2007 at Duquesne and 2010 at Millersville. Additionally, the Flames captured the Keystone Classic during Nov. 2009, besting nine programs for the team title, including top-25 ranked teams such as Penn and Duke.
Jersey Boys Close to Home
With the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania serving as wrestling powerhouses, many area natives are close to home for the 2011 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships. Robert Jillard and T. J. Mitchell are two grapplers that are close to home, with Jillard hailing from Franklinville, N.J. (25 miles from Philadelphia), and Mitchell coming from Hazlet, N.J. (75 miles from Philadelphia).
Three of the Flames' four qualifiers drew seeded opponents in the opening round of the championships. Royal Brettrager II faces Penn State's No. 2 Ed Ruth, Robert Jillard is up against Northwestern's No. 3 Brandon Precin and Chad Porter drew Ohio State's No. 5 Colt Sponseller.
The Flames are 1-13 against seeded opponents since the 2007 national event. The lone win came in 2010 with Scott Clymer defeating No. 12 Adin Duenas of Cal State Fullerton, 3-2.
The Right Direction
Liberty's wrestling program is headed in the right direction since its reinstatement for the 2006-07 season. Since then, the Flames have qualified 24 grapplers for the NCAA Tournament. This ranks them 30th amongst all other Division I teams in the last five years.