Men’s wrestlers gear up for challenging travel around region, nation starting in November
Before officially beginning practices Friday afternoon at the Liberty Club Sports Complex, Liberty University’s men’s wresting team released an action-packed 2022-23 schedule that will include two new locations for it to try to defend its NCWA National Duals and NCWA Grand National tournament titles for a fifth year in a row.
“Our National Duals has changed from the last weekend in January (at the LaHaye Ice Center) to the first weekend in January in Louisville (Ky.),” Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said. “That is going to really make December and January a meat grind for us because we are going to be in a lot of heavy-duty competitions back-to back. We will go from the Citrus Classic (Dec. 29-30 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), which is always a brutal tournament, right into the National Duals.”
He said that tournament will have a different format than in previous years as the NCWA, the National Collegiate Wrestling Association, will be teaming up with the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) that hosts the event, which also features NCAA Division II,Division III, and NAIA brackets contested on adjacent mats.
“As far as the NCWA field goes, it will be tougher than normal this year with a few teams that are transitioning to NCAA DI in it, including Queens (N.C.) College, Bellarmine (Ky.) University, and maybe Lindenwood (Mo.) University, which is a very good team, as well,” Castro said, noting that the Lions were ranked fifth in NCAA Division II last season.
The location for the season-ending NCWA Grand Nationals, set for March 9-11, will soon be finalized by the NCWA Executive Board.
“The West Coast committee is in Reno, Nev., right now checking out that facility,” said Castro, who visited Puerto Rico in late August as another potential site to take the place of perennial host Allen, Texas. “I was there with some East Coast Committee members and it was pretty interesting. They really want us and are doing everything that they can to make it happen. The Executive Board will make the decision based on our input.”
First of all, the Flames will have a fairly busy fall semester, starting with the Nov. 5 Messiah (Pa.) Invitational, the Nov. 13 Cougar Open at Averett University in Danville, Va., and the Nov. 19 Lindenwood Open near St. Louis, which draws plenty of NCAA Division I entries.
“That will be the weekend before Thanksgiving Break,” Castro said. “We usually fly with 13-14 guys, but we will be driving this year with 25 guys, who will be baptized by fire.”
Liberty will then send its travel team to Dec. 2-3 Blithe Duals at Cornerstone (Mich.) University, which offers a second-year NAIA program coached by former Flames Assistant Coach Chris Williamson, Castro’s son-in-law.
“There will be eight teams in that, and it will be another meat grind after a 12-hour drive with a lot of NAIA and a couple NCAA DIII schools,” Castro said.
The Flames’ 34-man roster includes 14 newcomers, but is also loaded with six individual NCWA Grand National champions, including 2020 157-pound champion Chad Cantrell, now in his second season as a graduate assistant. Reigning champions returning are graduate 125-pounder Dante Minnino and seniors Ian McIlhenny (157), Josiah Murphy (197), Jeffrey Allen (a three-time national champion at 235), and Rick Weaver (heavyweight). Liberty also has senior David Over, a national finalist at 165, and junior Brandon Ahlemann, who placed in nearly every tournament the Flames competed in last season.
Castro said the team has hit the mats flying after a strong preseason of conditioning.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “I’m really impressed with these guys as far as their organizational skills and staying on top of everything required of them, academically and logistically. It’s a pretty sharp group, and they have trained well in the weight room.”
The team’s theme for this season is “As One,” based on Acts 1:14a, “All these were continually devoting themselves with one mind to prayer,” and Philippians 2:2, “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
“It extends beyond functioning as a team, and to more as a spiritual unit,” Castro said. “It’s about being likeminded and united, as the Apostle Paul was talking about. We want to be of one accord.”
Besides Castro and Cantrell, the Flames will again be led by Assistant Coach Josh McIlhenny and Strength Coach Mike Allen.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer