Flames wrestlers go down fighting against some of nation’s best in St. Louis
Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team flew 14 of its top wrestlers to St. Louis to face some of the best national competition they will see all season at Saturday’s Lindenwood Open, featuring predominantly NCAA Division I and II and NAIA and junior college programs from throughout the Midwest.
“It was multi-divisional though there were no NCAA Division III schools, but a lot of good programs that we don’t normally see throughout the year,” Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said. “It was probably one of our toughest tournaments, this one and the one coming up in Florida (the Dec. 29-30 Citrus Classic in Fort Lauderdale).”
A total of 350 wrestlers competed on 12 mats in the Black Division and another 160 wrestled on five mats in the Gold Division, which featured mostly NCAA Division I wrestlers — as well as Liberty senior heavyweight Jeff Allen and senior 184-pound wrestler Blake Barrick.
“They didn’t do very well as they both went two and out,” Castro said. “I gave them the option (to compete in the Black or Gold brackets) and they chose to go for the Gold. They wanted to do it so that was good for them.”
Barrick lost a 7-2 decision to Central Oklahoma’s Alex Kauffman in the first round before being eliminated by Maryville’s James Anding, 3-2. Allen was pinned by Northeast Oklahoma’s Dan Baker in 1 minute, 38 seconds before being ousted by Southern Illinois’ Aric Bohn by 3-1 decision.
The Flames experienced more success in the Black Division.
Liberty junior 149-pounder Brandon Ahlemann reached the championship final with a pin of Cloud County Community College’s Tarik Adkins, a 10-3 decision over Central Oklahoma’s Coby Gomez, and an 8-3 decision over McKendree’s Noah Villarreal before losing a 6-0 decision to Triton’s Drake Campbell for a second-place finish.
Junior Ian McIlhenny experienced similar success at 157 pounds, winning his first match by fall in 3:58 over Oklahoma City’s Dezmen Loving before pinning Northern’s Jackson Vance in 2:27 and advancing to the championship final with a 10-7 decision over Oklahoma’s Alex Visloski. However, he dropped an 11-2 major decision to Gabe Johnson in the final.
Meanwhile, Flames sophomore Connor McCann came in fourth place after losing his first match by fall before scoring 6-2 and 11-4 decisions over Labatte Community College’s Jaime Mitchell and Triton’s Luke Barron, respectively, and dropping an 11-2 major decision to Indian Hills’ Cyrus Williams in the consolation final.
At 133 pounds, Logan Robertson won his first match by fall in 5:35 over Marian University’s Jared Brown before scoring an 8-7 decision over Trine’s Elon Rodriguez. He dropped to the consolation bracket with a 3-1 loss to the eventual champion before advancing to the consolation final with a 12-6 decision over Maryville’s Lucas Laux and being pinned in 14 seconds by Maryville’s Kade Willis to finish in fourth place.
“He got caught with a throw,” Castro said. “He wrestled well; everyone did. I thought we were very competitive at this tournament.”
Flames senior Josiah Murphy started out strongly in his 197-pound bracket with a 48-second pin in his first match and a 16-1 technical fall in his second before being edged by Illinois Joseph Braunagel in a 7-6 decision and having to medically default to fourth place due to injury.
Complete results are available online.
The team toured St. Louis during the day on Friday.
“It was a good time of team bonding,” Castro said. “We took the guys to the Gateway Arch, which has turned into a tradition that we do, and it was exciting for the guys to see something that they’ve never seen before.”
Liberty sent a split squad to Sunday’s Star City Classic Tournament in Salem, Va., and landed two wrestlers in the finals.
Junior Rick Weaver, who missed the season-opening Messiah Invitational tournament, made a statement by pinning his way to the heavyweight championship title.
Brady Elswick from host Roanoke College lasted the longest of Weaver’s opponents before falling 3 minutes, 26 seconds into their first-round match. Weaver then proceeded to deck Ferrum College’s Trent Ray in 46 seconds and George Mitchell in 1:41 to advance to the final, where he pinned Ethan Fragoso, also from Ferrum, in 2:26 to claim the crown, improving to 8-0 on the season.
At 174 pounds, Flames freshman Theo Sewell needed less than a minute to pin his first two opponents — Roanoke’s Steven Martinos in 49 seconds and University of Mount Olive’s Devin McCorkle in 56 seconds. However, in the championship final, Sewell lost a 9-4 decision to Roanoke’s Sawyer Dereszynski and settled for second place.
The Flames will next compete as a team at their first dual meet tournament, the Carolina Clash Duals hosted by Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., on Dec. 4.
“It will be good to give our guys a chance to heal from this,” Castro said of the two-week break before and after Thanksgiving. “They’re pretty beat up after some hard-fought matches (at Lindenwood). You could tell this was another level. Those guys were intense. That’s what we need to aspire to.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer