Flames to close out 2022 competing at Citrus Invitational in Fort Lauderdale
On the night after Christmas, 25 members of Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team will board a bus for a 16-hour trip to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
There, as a before the New Year tradition, the Flames will compete in the annual Citrus Invitational, a 16-team tournament featuring mostly NCAA Division III and NAIA programs and a total of approximately 400 wrestlers, on Dec. 29-30.
“It is definitely the longest trip of the year so far,” Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said, after taking his team on previous 12-hour bus journeys to St. Louis for the Lindenwood Open and Grand Rapids, Mich., for the Blithe Memorial Duals.
The Flames will be driving through the night and arriving on the afternoon of Dec. 27.
“We’re going to need a day to train after the Christmas break and to get rid of the cobwebs, but everyone should be ready to go,” Castro said.
As four-time defending NCWA National Duals and NCWA Grand National champions, Liberty debuted at No. 1 in the NCWA rankings. The Flames will be the only NCWA representative at this week’s tournament, to be staged in the Broward County Convention Center.
“It will be a very strong NCAA DIII tournament,” Castro said, noting that Augsburg (Minn.), the defending champion, is again favored as the No. 2-ranked NCAA Division III program in the nation. “And it’s going to be a huge tournament, with teams like Castleton (Vt.) bringing 40 or more wrestlers and St. Thomas (Fla.) bringing about 30.”
Other programs to watch will be John Carroll (Ohio) University, the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and New York University.
“Those teams are definitely solid,” Castro said. “We have been respectable. The highest we have ever placed was third one year, when we had a few NCAA Division I leftovers.”
Liberty previously competed as a NCAA team but moved to the NCWA following the 2011 season.
He said one of the better individual showdowns could come at heavyweight, with Augsburg’s defending champion Tyler Kim likely to face Flames seniors Rick Weaver or Jeff Allen, one- and three-time defending NCWA national champions, respectively, in the semifinals or final.
Liberty will not have two of their better wrestlers available — 141-pound junior Garrett Good, who is scheduled to have season-ending surgery, and former 157-pound NCWA Grand National champion Chad Cantrell, who served as a graduate assistant last season. Castro plans to hold Good out until next weekend’s NCWA National Duals.
Live results will be available on Trackwrestling.com.
After the Citrus Invitational, Liberty will not have much time to enjoy the New Year’s celebration as it will return to campus for practice in early January before traveling to Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 4, in time for the Jan. 6-7 NCWA National Duals.
“It is going to be a quick turnaround, that’s for sure,” Castro said. “We want to be ready to go.”
The Flames will look to claim their fifth consecutive title there, and first in Kentucky after hosting it at the LaHaye Ice Center in previous years. But Liberty could be tested more severely than in seasons past in that tournament with the eight participating teams determined by an NCWA selection committee.
Castro said Bellarmine University, which will have a home-mat advantage being from Louisville, will be one of the toughest teams in that field, as it is transitioning from NCAA Division II to Division I and competing in NCWA this year. The top finishers there will earn bonus points to go toward the NCWA Grand Nationals, which will be the Flames’ farthest trip of the season, set for March 9-11 in Puerto Rico.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer