Wrestlers wrap up eighth consecutive MAC Tournament title
March 2, 2019 | Lynchburg, Va.
Liberty University's men's wrestling team won a record seven individual weight classes to extend its streak of Mid-Atlantic Conference Tournament championships to eight, Saturday at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center.
The Flames had 10 championship finalists and qualified 14 wrestlers for the March 14-16 NCWA Grand National Championships in Allen, Texas, with top-five finishes. Liberty rallied from behind in the finals to edge Apprentice School by less than 10 points, 203-193.5, in the 10-team points standings.
Last year at nationals, Liberty barely eclipsed Apprentice by one-half point in the final team standings to claim its second crown in four years.
"Obviously, we've got to wrestle well to defend our title at nationals," Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said. "Last year, we didn't wrestle up to what we were capable of."
On Saturday, sophomore 149-pounder Chad Cantrell started the Flames' string of seven weight-class winners (the most in team history) by scoring three takedowns in the first period of his match against the Builders' Tristan Mabe leading to a 15-8 decision.
|Andrew Burgette won his first MAC final in three tries.|
At 157 pounds, junior Andrew Burgette advanced to his third consecutive MAC final before winning his first title with a 10-5 triumph over Apprentice's top-seeded Chad Simmons.
"He actually beat me here last year so it was pretty cool to get a win over him," Burgette said. "We're pretty pumped right now after seeing what we could do and we're looking forward to seeing all the other schools at nationals."
Liberty junior 165-pounder Luke Ely held on for a 1-0 win over East Carolina's Peter Becher before junior 174-pounder Sam Karel won his final match by medical forfeit over senior teammate Cody Richmond.
At 184 pounds, Flames senior captain Josh McIlhenny overcame deficits of 3-2 in the first period and 7-6 after the second against JMU's Ryan Thomas, tying the match with an escape to start the third before scoring a late takedown and riding out a 10-7 decision.
Senior Austin Amos, the reigning 235-pound national champion, sustained the Flames' only championship setback in the 197-pound final, by fall in 2 minutes, 53 seconds to Apprentice's defending 197-pound champion Ross Graham, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler.
Flames sophomore Jeffrey Allen won his 235-pound final over graduate David Smith by forfeit before senior captain Dominick Johnson defended his 285-pound trophy by overcoming an early 2-0 deficit to nip Middle Tennessee State's Austin Wells, 5-4, with a riding time point.
McIlhenny said the camaraderie and spiritual synergy within the team played a significant role in the tournament title, staged on the Flames' home mats.
"A big part of our success is the love that we have for each other that transcends wrestling and is more important in my eyes than any championship you can win," McIlhenny said. "Ultimately, we want to bring glory to the Lord."
He said Apprentice will provide the biggest obstacle for Liberty in its quest to defend its NCWA Grand National title in Texas.
"They're coming to win just like we are," he said. "We're just excited to go out there and give it everything we've got."