Wrestling team showing no complacency, continues to build chemistry in offseason
Its fourth consecutive NCWA Grand National and NCWA National Duals championships and 10th Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) Tournament title in a row highlighted Liberty University’s men’s wrestling season. Those were the Flames’ fifth Grand National and sixth National Duals crowns overall and they broke their own NCWA record with seven individual national champions in Allen, Texas.
“Success always breeds success, and when you have a legacy that is established, it kind of has a momentum to it in that people are drawn to, which makes recruiting a whole lot easier,” Liberty Head Coach Jesse Castro said. “It also gives the team that you have presently a confidence, and that confidence was evident at the national tournament.
“Four years in a row is a great precedent … in terms of building a legacy of success,” he added. “We had seven national champions, which is unheard of, out of 11 weight classes. It doesn’t matter what division. It just doesn’t happen. That kind of precedent again is something we’re going to build upon, and we’re not going to rest until we have 11 champions.”
Senior 235-pound wrestler Jeff Allen won his third consecutive national title, matching Austin Amos for most in program history at the NCWA level, though one short of Castro’s record when he competed for the Flames from 1977-81 in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).
“Results are the best measuring stick of how you are doing,” said Allen, who plans to return next season as a graduate student. “We have four championships now and this is the third one I got to be a part of, so that’s definitely exciting to see the hard work paying off in the form of championships. We enjoyed that we won this year, but we’re already looking forward to trying to put ourselves in a spot to win again next year.”
“It’s been a really great milestone,” senior 125-pounder Dante Minnino added. “Last year, we didn’t have a tournament, so last year was a building year to work toward this goal, so that was really cool to be able to achieve that with these guys.”
Junior heavyweight Rick Weaver, who struggled to make weight at the start of the season, emerged as a dominant force by the season’s end, pinning his way to a MAC championship before capturing his first Grand National title.
“It’s been pretty impactful,” Weaver said of the Flames’ season, and his personally. “Wrestling individually, it’s sort of a bond with our brothers on the team. They get us hyped, going at it as a team, and we try to wrestle as one, even though we’re all individuals. We all have the same purpose, to win at the end.”
Castro said that is the key to the Flames’ continued success, working in harmony on the practice mats and carrying the legacy left by alumni.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of that chemistry, because these guys when they went out there in March to battle, they were battling for each other, not just for themselves, so to me as a coach, that was very rewarding,” he said.
Wrestlers returned to the practice room at the Liberty Club Sports Complex to continue workouts in April, just a few weeks after concluding their season on top of the NCWA world.
“We’re incorporating some of these offseason lifts now, starting to get the guys back together to work out,” Minnino said last month. “That’s how we’re going to get ready for next year, too. It starts right now, whether it’s weightlifting or just going over technique stuff. It’s really important that we are together working out, and still having a positive mindset, but having some fun with it as well.”
Video edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant