Men’s wrestlers shooting for fourth straight NCWA Grand National title in Texas, fifth in last seven
With 20 competitors in this weekend’s NCWA Grand National Championships in Allen, Texas, Liberty University’s top-ranked men’s wrestling team is the deepest in the field of 68 schools represented, followed by UNLV and Washington State with 18 apiece and Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) Tournament runner-up Apprentice School with 17.
The 10-time-defending MAC Tournament champion and three-time-defending NCWA Grand National champion Flames will start Thursday’s 25th annual tournament with 20 bonus team points after winning their fourth consecutive NCWA National Duals championship in late January at the LaHaye Ice Center.
“We had a good practice (Wednesday),” Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said. “We worked out for about an hour and 15 minutes, had a good drill session, and did a lot of mental prep to help the guys keep a mental edge there. Different wrestlers react differently to the pressure. They really are all biting at the bit, wanting to get out there and compete.”
The Flames feature four wrestlers ranked No. 1 in the NCWA — 141-pound sophomore Garrett Good (25-9), 165-pound sophomore David Over (15-7), 235-pound junior Jeff Allen (21-4), a two-time NCWA Grand National champion, and 285-pound junior Rick Weaver (18-1), who was a national runner-up in 2020, when Liberty had a record five individual national champions.
Additionally, senior Dante Minnino is ranked second at 125, graduate Logan Robertson is seeded second at 133, senior Blake Barrick is seeded second at 184, and senior Josiah Murphy is seeded second at 197.
“For the most part, I like where we are (seeded),” Castro said. “The only one I don’t like is 149, where we got both of our guys (No. 4-seeded junior Brandon Ahlemann and No. 8-seeded junior Charlie Hudson) in the top bracket going against the No. 1 seed (Texas A&M’s Ty’rae Carter) who’s going to be tough to beat.”
In all, there are more than 450 men’s wrestlers and 80 women’s wrestlers entered in the tournament field. Complete brackets are available online and every match will be streamed live by FloWrestling.org.
“I thought it was going to be down in numbers, but we are actually up from 2020, the last time there was a national tournament, so I am surprised about that,” Castro said. “Many of these guys don’t have a lot of matches, so I think that’s going to be an advantage for us.’
Thursday’s preliminary rounds are scheduled to start at 11 a.m. (EST) with the Round of 16 on tap for 7 p.m. On Friday, championship quarterfinals will begin at 10 a.m. followed by consolation action from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., when the championship semifinals will be waged.
“If you make it to Saturday, you’re an All-American,” Castro said of those placing in the top 8 of their respective weight classes. “We want to see 11 All-Americans, at least one at every weight class.”
Saturday’s consolation semifinals begin at 10 a.m. before the championship finals are set to start at 7 p.m.
The Lady Flames will be represented by four wrestlers, including senior Rebekah Kemper, seeded third at 191, and Hawaiian sophomores Claudia Keanini, seeded fourth at 143, and Maile Ka’ahanui, seeded sixth at 171.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer