Men’s wrestlers roll to 10th MAC Tournament title in a row with eight champions, 20 national qualifiers
After a decade of dominance in the Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC), Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team shows no sign of weakening as Head Coach Jesse Castro continues to replenish the ranks of his program.
The Flames captured their 10th consecutive MAC Tournament championship, Sunday at the LaHaye Multipurpose Center, qualifying a record 20 wrestlers for the March 10-12 NCWA Grand National Championships in Allen, Texas, where they will seek their fourth title in a row.
Liberty will take bonus team points into that tournament after winning its fourth consecutive NCWA National Duals tournament championship, Jan. 21-22 at the LaHaye Ice Center.
“We will send two wrestlers in every weight class except heavyweight and 141 pounds,” Castro said, noting that he had a record eight individual MAC champions on Sunday, eclipsing the 2020 total by one. “Honestly, we probably had the tournament won halfway through the semifinals. We’ve got to earn it (at nationals). We’re not going to take it lightly.”
In the MAC tournament, the Flames racked up 265 team points to steamroll over the Apprentice School (150), Allen (S.C.) University (84.5), East Carolina (74), Clemson (66), JMU (58), Lincoln Memorial (Tenn., 57), Emory & Henry (50), and Tennessee (39).
Liberty 165-pound junior David Over was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Wrestler after winning his three matches by fall, including the championship bout against JMU’s Calvin Kopstein in 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
“I think I’ll see him again,” said Over, who trailed 4-0 at the time of his third-period pin. “I believe that was a national finals preview. We’re the best conditioned team in this tournament and that’s what did it. We wore them out. I broke him physically.”
Over was joined by sophomore Garrett Good at 141 pounds, junior Brandon Ahlemann at 149, junior Ian McIlhenny at 157, senior Blake Barrick at 184, senior Josiah Murphy at 197, senior Jeff Allen at 235, and junior Rick Weaver at heavyweight as the Flames eight champions.
“We looked phenomenal out there,” Over said. “I’m so excited, especially for the freshmen, the recruits that we’ve brought into the room this year. Even the guys that didn’t place and aren’t going to nationals, we’ve just got guys in the chute that have so much potential. I think our ceiling’s limitless. Two years ago, we had five national champions and I think we can do as much damage if not more this year. I’m looking forward to it. Up and down the lineup, we’re loaded for nationals and we’ll stay loaded next year.”
Weaver, who struggled to make the 285-pound weight cutoff at the start of the season, has come a long way since then and is ranked No. 1 in the NCWA. Like Over, he also pinned his three opponents Sunday, including two of the top-four-ranked opponents in the nation.
“I got a lot stronger, I cut down weight, I’ve been trying to learn more about the technical side of wrestling,” Weaver said. “I’m taking time to work on my craft in the room and also outside of the room.”
“As a team, we did really good after not wrestling for a week or two,” he added. “We really stepped it up and brought our A game. We did our best and that’s all Coach (Castro) asks from us. We try to do what the Lord asks, too. Regardless of the outcome, I always give glory to God.”
MAC Tournament Championship finals
125: Bruno Alves (AS) d. Dante Minnino (Lib), 8-7
133: Dillon Messick (E&H) d. Logan Robertson (Lib), 4-3
141: Garrett Good (Lib) d. Raekwon Jackson (AS), 1-0
149: Brandon Ahlemann (Lib) p. Jordan Robins (AS), 2:32
157: Ian McIlhenny (Lib) d. Connor McCann (Lib), by forfeit
165: David Over (Lib) p. Calvin Kopstein (JMU), 5:35
174: Parker Drake (LM) m.d. Drew Doscher (Clem), 10-1
184: Blake Barrick (Lib) t.f. Gabe Hayes (Lib), 17-1 at 6:03
197: Josiah Murphy (Lib) d. Jesse Redding (Lib), 7-4
235: Jeff Allen (Lib) d. John Pierce (AS), 6-1
285: Rick Weaver (Lib) p. Thomas Hudson (ECU), 3:37
Third-place bouts with Liberty wrestlers
125: Jalen Fyffe (Lib) d. Tristan Walls (Lib), 3-1
149: Charles Hudson (Lib) p. Robert Leek (Lib), 0:46
174: Matt Henson (AS) d. Edmond DeAngelis (Lib), 4-3
197: Michael Jackson (Allen) p. Sean Gillespie (Lib), 4:37
Fifth-place bouts with Liberty wrestlers
133: Damian Thayer (Lib) d. Scott Nappi (Tenn), 10-5
235: Rickey Abercrombie (AS) by medical forfeit over Wallace Canada (Lib)
Included in the Flames’ 20-man roster for nationals are two wild cards — sophomore Cole Waddy at 165 and freshman Theo Sewell at 174, seventh-place finishers who received at-large bids.
Meanwhile, Liberty’s women’s wrestling team totaled 19 points to finish runner-up to Tennessee (24) and edge third-place Apprentice School (18) in the MAC Women’s Wrestling Tournament. Sophomore Maile Ka’ahauni pinned Tennessee’s Keely Sage in 1:57 to lead the Lady Flames, who will send all four of their competitors — including sophomore Claudia Keanini, senior Rebekah Kemper, and junior Taylor Martin — to the NCWA Grand Nationals in Texas.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Caitlyn Brown/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant