Men’s wrestlers wrap up fourth consecutive NCWA Grand National Championship before finals
For the fifth time in the past seven tries, Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team will return from Texas with the NCWA Grand National Championship trophy.
With 62 schools represented by a total of more than 450 wrestlers at this weekend’s tournament at the Allen Event Center, the Flames only led second-place Gray’s Harbor (Wash.) University, 63.5-50, after Thursday’s first day of competition.
However, the Flames seized a stranglehold on first place in the team standings after Friday’s quarterfinal round by sending 10 of its 20 competitors to the semifinals. Eight of those 10 wrestlers advanced to Saturday’s championship finals, matching the Flames’ total from 2020, when they also clinched the team title on the second day and finished with a program record five individual champions.
“It was a dominant performance,” Head Coach Jesse Castro said, noting that Liberty is now guaranteed at least one All-American for top-8 finishes in 10 of the 11 weight classes, and two at 125 and 197 pounds. “Obviously the Lord is the One that has allowed us to do this, and we want to give Him the glory for sure. We have an all-American at every weight class but 174 pounds.”
He noted that before the semifinals, the Flames’ overall match record was 54-17, for a 76 winning percentage, and Liberty’s starting wresters had posted a34-3 mark (92 percent).
Liberty, the 10-time-defending Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) tournament champion, sits atop the team standings with 196 points, followed by MAC runner-up Apprentice (130.5), Grays Harbor (115.5), Penn State (85.5), Ohio State (83), Springfield Tech (72.5), Grand Valley State (71), UNLV (70.5), Florida (66.5), and Texas A&M (65.5), which rounds out the top 10.
Unlike in previous seasons, when the Flames’ lineups have been top-heavy, they got things rolling right from the first weight class, with sophomore Jalen Fyffe, seeded 13th, and second-seeded senior Dante Minnino both reaching the semis in their first NCWA Grand Nationals tournaments.
“Jalen Fyffe got beat by the No. 1 seed (Apprentice School’s Bruno Alves), but that was a wonderful performance by him,” Castro said.
Minnino set up a MAC Championship final rematch with the Alves by winning his first three matches by major decision, including a 12-4 semifinal triumph over No. 3-seeded Dylan Beddow from Springfield Tech.
“He’s never beaten (Alves) before, so it’s going to be a tall order,” Castro said.
At 133, Liberty graduate Logan Robertson won his first match by technical fall, his second by major decision, and his quarterfinal and semifinal bouts by two-point decisions — 2-0 over Grand Valley State’s seventh-seeded Cody Castelline and 5-3 over Springfield Tech’s sixth-seeded Michael Gonzalez. He will face Iowa State’s fourth-seeded Zachary Foote in the final.
Sophomore 141-pounder Garrett Good earned the No. 1 seed in his first nationals appearance, but was upset by Apprentice’s fifth-seeded Zachary Ortega by 14-2 major decision in the semifinals. At 149, Flames’ fourth-seeded junior Brandon Ahlemann is still alive in the consolation semifinals, and Liberty got a bonus finalist from No. 8-seeded junior Ian McIlhenny at 157.
The younger brother of Assistant Coach and former Flames wrestler Josh McIlhenny pinned Toledo’s No. 1-seeded Zachery Snyder in the semifinals, sending him to a championship showdown with Florida’s No. 7-seeded Hayden McCandless.
Liberty No. 1-seeded junior 165-pounder David Over recorded two decisions and two pins en route to a finals showdown with Macomb Community College’s No. 2-seeded Antonio Tranchida, decking Ohio State’s Benjamin Blickle 4 minutes,18 seconds into their semifinal.
At 184, Flames No. 2-seeded senior Blake Barrick scored one fall, one decision, and two major decisions, including a 10-0 semifinal defeat of Rutgers’ Ben Liss, to reach the championship bout against Grand Valley State’s No. 1-seeded Seth Konynenbelt.
Liberty has two seniors still competing at 197 pounds — second-seeded Josiah Murphy, a 3-1 semifinal winner over Toledo’s No. 3-seeded Matthew Abraham, and 16th-seeded Jesse Redding, a surprise consolation quarterfinalist. Murphy will challenge Grays Harbor’s top-seeded Sione Halo in the final.
At 235, Flames senior No. 1-seeded, two-time defending national champion Jeff Allen into his final against Apprentice’s John Pierce, pinning his first two opponents before winning by major decision and 6-4 decision over Dixie State’s No. 4-seeded Zeke Alleman in the semis.
Liberty’s top-seeded junior heavyweight, 2020 nationals runner-up Rick Weaver, scored a pin, a major decision, and two decisions, including a 6-0 shutout of East Carolina’s Thomas Hudson in the semis, to set up a finals bout against Apprentice’s No. 10-seeded Peter Cortapasso, who he pinned in the MAC Tournament.
Complete results are available online and will be updated live on Saturday.
Wrestling resumes with consolation quarterfinals at 10 a.m. (EST) before seventh-, fifth-, and third-place bouts lead up to the 7 p.m. championship finals on the center mat.
On the women’s side, Lady Flames sophomores Claudia Keanini (143 pounds) and Maile Ka’ahauni (170) and senior Rebekah Kempber (191) will all be wrestling to get into their respective consolation finals.
“We’re going to be in some dogfights, for sure,” Castro said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer