T. J. Mitchell (133 pounds) and the Flames' wrestling squad return to action this weekend in Annapolis, Md., and Lewisburg, Pa.
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After nearly two weeks without competition, the Liberty wrestling team returns to dual action this weekend with a multi-event road trip, facing Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) members Navy and Bucknell. The Flames match up with the Midshipmen in Annapolis, Md., inside Halsey Field House at 7 p.m. Friday and finish in Lewisburg, Pa., at the Bison's Davis Gym with a 4 p.m. dual Sunday.
The dual with Navy is the first meeting between the programs since Liberty's reinstatement, with Navy winning the previous dual 34-2 on February 6, 1982. Meanwhile, Bucknell has been a familiar opponent. The programs have squared off the previous four years in addition to a dual in 1992. The Bison hold the 4-1 edge in the series, with the Flames' only win being a 25-24 outcome on January 19, 2007.
The Flames are returning to action after a 0-2 showing at the Virginia Duals, where they dropped matches to No. 15 Michigan (37-9) and Virginia (35-3) who continues to sit just outside the NWCA/USA Today Coaches Poll after being ranked as high as No. 23 earlier in the year. The two defeats slid Liberty's dual meet record to 6-5.
The first dual will pit the Flames against a Navy squad that has competed mainly in tournaments this season and holds a 2-1 record in dual meets, defeating Franklin & Marshall (32-13) and No. 12 Lehigh (19-15). Their lone loss came at the hands of No. 8 Oklahoma (28-9).
In tournament competition, the Midshipmen have notched a first place finish at their own Navy Classic (Nov. 20), in addition to an 18th-place finish at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational. Navy's other tournament experience came in events that Liberty also competed in. At the Reno Tournament of Champions (Dec. 19), Navy finished seventh to Liberty's 16th-place finish in the 30-team field. To end 2010, Navy placed 12th to Liberty's 27th-place finish at the Southern Scuffle (Dec. 29-30).
Navy is led by Bryce Saddoris who is No. 6 in the latest InterMat rankings at 157 pounds. The senior is 24-4 this season and boasts a career record of 134-36. His 24 wins this season show his success in tournaments. He has placed at each event entered, including weight-class titles at the Eastern Michigan Open (Nov. 6) and Navy Classic (Nov. 20), along with a runner-up finish at the Reno Tournament of Champions (Dec. 19).
Junior, Luke Rebertus joins his teammate as a ranked grappler, as he is No. 8 in the 184-pound weight class. With a 21-5 mark this season, Rebertus has placed at each event and mirrored Saddoris' finishes at the Eastern Michigan Open, Navy Classic and Tournament of Champions, with two titles and a runner-up finish.
In the weekend cap, Liberty faces Bucknell, who holds a deceptive record of 3-8. Five of the Bison's losses have come to teams holding a national ranking at the time of competition.
The Bison have two dual opponents in common with the Flames, with each team having faced Princeton and Maryland. The Flames defeated each opponent, knocking off Maryland the opening weekend of competition, 21-17 and defeating the Tigers, 28-15 as part of a tri-match on Dec. 3. Bucknell dropped each of their contests, with Princeton taking an 18-16 win on Dec. 17 and Maryland claiming a 23-10 victory this past weekend.
In tournament action, the Bison took a second-place finish at the Navy Classic while finishing the Midlands Championships in 18th place in a field of 44. Bucknell also competed in the Virginia Duals, posting a 1-2 record with their lone win coming against UNC Greensboro, 21-17.
Kevin LeValley is Bucknell's leading grappler and is No. 6 in the latest InterMat rankings at 149 pounds. LeValley has started his senior season with a 19-1 overall record, leading him to titles at the Michigan State Open and Midlands Championships in his weight class. LeValley is 10-1 in dual meets.
The Bison also have two other grapplers that are nearing 20 victories on the season in Cory Lear (165 pounds) and Jay Hahn (197 pounds), who each have 17 wins.
Lear earned an individual title at the Navy Classic, adding to a second place finish at the Michigan State Open. Hahn posted third-place finishes in each of those events.
Before the Flames and Bison round the mats on Sunday afternoon, the Bison are scheduled to dual with Old Dominion on Friday.
For the Flames, Aaron Kelley looks to return to the mats this weekend after missing a couple of months with a shoulder injury. The redshirt senior is 3-2 on the year at 184 pounds and has not competed since the Nov. 14 dual with Chattanooga.
Fellow redshirt seniors Chad Porter (165 pounds) and Josh Pelletier (HWT) look to continue their success in dual meets this season. Porter holds a 4-2 dual meet record this season and looks to avenge last season's fall (5:32) to Bucknell's Lear if the two meet on Sunday. Pelletier ranks second on the squad in dual wins, posting seven.
Freshmen have also produced for the Flames as of late with Robert Jillard (125 pounds) and Royal Brettrager II (174 pounds) each picking up wins at the Virginia Duals. Jillard is 12-8 this season while posting a 2-2 record in limited dual action. Brettrager II is 10-8, with a 6-3 dual meet record.
LibertyFlames.com will be the source of the most up-to-date information on the Liberty wrestling squad this weekend, with coverage coming from various avenues.
During Friday's meet with Navy, look for live blog coverage to follow the Flames bout-by-bout from the Midshipmen's Halsey Field House at 7 p.m.
On Sunday afternoon, a live scoring feed will be available for the dual with Bucknell. A link will be provided prior to the dual.
As always, updates will also be available on the LibertyFlames Twitter page. Fans wishing to track Liberty Athletics' coverage will need to "follow" the LibertyFlames page by clicking the link at the top of the page.
Liberty's Probable Starters: 125 – Robert Jillard (12-8) or Joel Stafford (6-4) 133 – T. J. Mitchell (8-11) or Nathan Nelson (3-8) 141 – Seth Hicks (7-9) or Joey Montgomery (6-8) 149 – Peter Crawford (4-6) or Eric Reger (5-9) 157 – Julian Colon (10-9) 165 – Chad Porter (11-7) or Eli Sanchez (1-11) 174 – Royal Brettrager II (10-8) 184 – Aaron Kelley (3-2) or Marcus Nielson (2-5) 197 – Aaron Thompson (9-7) 285 – Josh Pelletier (10-5) or Jake Wright (0-0)