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    January 17, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Winners of five of the past 10 NCWA National Duals titles, Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team will have the “home-ice” advantage for Friday’s and Saturday’s tournament hosted for the fourth time in the past six years at the LaHaye Ice Center, with four mats set up on top of a covering over the hockey rink.

    The Flames, who debuted at No. 1 in the NCWA’s 2022 national rankings, are favored to capture their fourth team championship in a row and sixth in the 11 seasons since transitioning from the NCAA Division I ranks. Liberty become the first to “three-peat” as champions in January 2020 before accomplishing that feat at the NCWA Grand Nationals in Allen, Texas, in March 2020.

    “We are fighting for points for the (NCWA) Grand National tournament, and for the sake of coming home with a National Duals men’s champions, we are expecting it to be very competitive,” Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro said, noting that the seven teams will be awarded points based on their finish and individual wrestlers can strengthen their seedings for the March 10-12 NCWA Grand Nationals in Texas.

    Individually, the Flames feature a number of highly ranked wrestlers, including two-time defending NCWA Grand National champion senior Jeff Allen (14-4, No. 1 at 235), junior Blake Barrick (17-3, No. 1 at 197), junior Rick Weaver (11-1, No. 1 at 285), senior Dante Minnino (11-8, No. 2 at 125 pounds), graduate Logan Robertson (15-4, No. 2 at 133), sophomore Garrett Good (14-8, No. 4 at 141), junior Josiah Murphy (17-3, No. 6 at 235), junior Charles Hudson (11-7, No. 6 at 149), and sophomore Brandon Ahlemann (14-6, No. 8 at 149).

    Besides Liberty and the Apprentice School, the No. 2-ranked program from Newport News, Va., the rest of the tournament field includes No. 3 Grand Valley (Mich.) State, No. 4 Grays Harbor (Wash.), Central Florida, East Carolina, and JMU. A handful of schools and a number of individual wrestlers had to pull out due to cases of COVID-19 or guidelines restricting travel.

    “We normally have 12-15 teams and have had more than 20,” said Castro, who returned to Liberty on Tuesday after missing the previous week due to a case of COVID. “It is a little slight (in team entries this year) due to circumstances beyond our control.”

    The Flames were to be tested Thursday morning and practice on Thursday night for the first time since placing third in the American College division in last weekend’s Virginia Duals.

    “Because we’ve been required to quarantine, we haven’t been able to be together this week,” Castro said, noting that the Flames should have one of the deepest rosters in the tournament, “providing everything is good and everyone gets cleared. Apprentice School is still the team to beat and Grays Harbor is very strong. On paper, they look very good; they’re loaded. Grand Valley is going to be good, too.”

    After 10 a.m. and 9 a.m. weigh-ins, wrestling is expected to start with the first of Friday’s three Pool A round-robin matches between Central Florida and Grays Harbor at 11 a.m. before the Flames take on UCF and Grays Harbor in the afternoon. Championship and consolation semifinals are set to start at 10 a.m. Saturday, when the championship finals are expected to start at 2:30 p.m.

    Live results will be posted on trackwrestling.com.

    Liberty’s women’s wrestling team is not traveling to the NCWA Women’s National Duals in Surprise, Ariz., but will instead be competing in a quad meet on Friday and the Robert Horton Memorial Tournament at Emmanuel (Ga.) College on Sunday.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer