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    December 14, 2021 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    A year after having very few opportunities to travel to out-of-state tournaments or dual meets, Liberty University’s men’s wrestling team is embracing the chance to compete again between their families’ and friends’ Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Flames Head Coach Jesse Castro will be flying to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with two assistant coaches and 17 student-athletes in tow for the Dec. 29-30 Citrus Invitational, an open tournament held at the Broward County Convention Center.

    “We’re looking forward to that, actually. It’s kind of refreshing,” Castro said. “We feel good about it. There’s always the big question mark of whether I can keep these guys doing what they’re supposed to be while they’re away, to maintain their conditioning — and keep their weights down — before the competition. They’ll be coming back (to Liberty) on Dec. 26, and we’ll be flying out on the 27th, so it will be a fast return and departure.”

    The 14-team tournament will feature a number of NCAA Division III programs, including Augsburg (Minn.) University, ranked No. 2 in the nation, and John Carroll (Ohio) University, also in the top 10.

    “It will be comparable to the competition we will see at the (March 10-12 NCWA Grand Nationals), maybe even a little tougher,” said Castro, who is hoping for a top-five team finish and several individual place winners. “It will be a good-sized tournament, with no limit to the number of wrestlers teams can take, so some will have between 20 and 30. The highest we’ve placed there is fourth, though we have never really had a complete lineup until this year. Other than a couple kids, we’ll probably have the best lineup we can take, though not all in their (targeted) weight classes.”

    Preliminary rounds will be wrestled on Wednesday before the semifinal and championship bouts are waged on Friday.

    The team will return from Florida on the morning of Dec. 31, in time to make it back to Lynchburg, Va., to ring in the New Year.

    “It is pretty exciting,” Flames freshman Theo Sewell added. “We’re going pretty far for a reason, so … we’ll see how it goes.”

    Sewell has made an auspicious debut in his collegiate career, finishing runner-up in the Star City Classic in Salem, Va., and winning three matches by fall to help Liberty finish 5-0 against NCAA Division II competition at the Carolina Clash Duals at Lander (S.C.) University.

    “It’s been a great start and I’m loving it so far,” he said. “We’re making big strides, even over the break. I’m excited to see how it goes into the New Year. I know there is going to be a lot of competition down there (in Florida), a lot of tough matches.”

    He will be competing along with senior Ethan Martin in the 174-pound weight class.

    “There’s three of us at 174, so we’re always gritting and grinding in practice and I’m learning a lot from both of the guys every day,” Sewell said of Martin and junior Eddie DeAngelis, who won’t be making the trip. “Everyone’s in there working hard, working their butts off every day.”

    Other team members traveling include senior captains Dante Minnino (125 pounds), Blake Barrick (184), and Jeff Allen, who will be joined in the heavyweight division by junior Rick Weaver. Graduate Logan Robertson will be the Flames’ only 133-pounder while they will have three wrestlers at 141 — sophomore Garrett Good, 5-10 So., Lynchburg, senior Bobby Leek, and freshman Grant Brammer. Besides 165, where junior David Over will be its only representative, Liberty will feature two wrestlers at 149 (juniors Brandon Ahlemann and Charlie Hudson), 157 (sophomore Connor McCann and junior Ian McIlhenny), and 197 (seniors Josiah Murphy and Sean Gillespie).

    Sewell said the Citrus Invitational will be a good opportunity for wrestlers to maintain and sharpen skills in the midst of their Winter Break, before the Flames contend for their fourth consecutive NCWA National Duals (Jan. 21-22 at the LaHaye Ice Center) and NCWA Grand National tournament (March 10-12 in Allen, Texas) championships.

    “It’s going to be great for us to get ready for the (Virginia Duals) tournament coming up (Jan. 14-15 in Hampton, Va.), which will get us ready for when (the NCWA) National (Duals) come around,” Sewell said. “They’ll be here before you know it.”


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer