Liberty Wrestling National Championship

Down the Atlantic Ocean, past the beaches and surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Puerto Rico, is where you will find the Liberty wrestling team as it takes on the national championship tournament this week.

 March 9-11, the Liberty Flames wrestling team will be in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as it fights for its fifth consecutive national championship title. Even as the team has dealt with the loss of key veterans and a significant injury this season, the players still find themselves competing for the title that they’ve grown accustomed to battling for.

 “After losing some season veterans, (furthermore) losing a key starter to surgery, we feel that our underclassmen are stepping up to fill the gaps,” Liberty wrestling Head Coach Jesse Castro said. “A few in particular are on the precipice of breaking through to another level. Blake Schmitt (and) Jackson Wakeland are two freshmen that have been thrown into starting roles that have tested their metal.”

 This is the first time a national collegiate tournament has been hosted on the island, and the team is excited to try to carve their names into the history books.

“They realize that the task before them is one that will require performances above the level they have wrestled to date,” Castro said.

 The team is led by its dominant upper weights that have been described as the team’s “mainstay when it comes to consistency,” according to  Castro. The upper weights have been the team’s strength throughout the season. Jeff Allen, who weighs in at 235 pounds, stands out as he just broke the programs all-time win record, previously held for over 30 years by former two-time NCAA national runner up Mike Hatch. Upper weights Josiah Murphy and Rick Weaver have been crucial to the team’s success too, as well as Dante Mininno, standing at 125 pounds, who has been a terrific leader for the team.

 “Our team motto this entire season has been, ‘as one’ of ‘one accord’ is our scriptural reference,” Castro said. “We realize that this is both a team sport and individual sport. We are interdependent in the way we train and compete. The team culture has been impacted through a deeper fellowship among the team in general.”

Winning isn’t new for Castro. Castro was a high school and regional champion, but his accolades only improve from there. Castro was the first Liberty wrestler to earn over 100 wins and became the first wrestler in NCWA history to win four national championships. He has now been coaching for 38 years and has been the head coach for the Flames since 2005.

As the team heads to Puerto Rico, the Flames hope to win their fifth straight national championship.

Willard is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter

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