By Devin Golden
One year removed from having its wrestling program cut from the athletic department and reclassified from NCAA Division I to club status, the Liberty University wrestling team added a championship to its trophy case.
The Flames took home their first National Collegiate Wrestling Association National Duals championship Saturday at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center. Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Va., defeated Missouri’s Lindenwood University-St. Charles 25-15 to complete a dominant two-day performance.
“My congratulations go to my upperclassmen for keeping this team together through some challenging times,” Liberty coach Jesse Castro said after his team won the title.
Liberty came to Dalton this week carrying a 13-1 duals record and a No. 2 ranking in the NCWA coaches poll. However, this was the Flames’ first season in NCWA competition after school officials reclassified the program to club status last March.
Liberty is one of many to endure this fate, and the reason for Liberty’s classification change is due to Title IX, the law requiring that men and women be given equal opportunities to participate in athletics at federally funded educational institutions.
In other words, overcoming obstacles and adversity is not new for Liberty wrestling, and the team needed that experience during the duals tournament.
“I’ve got three guys on my team who were wrestling injured,” Castro said. “I want to quote one of the guys on our team who said he felt like the hand of God was upon our team all weekend, and I agree.”
Lindenwood-St. Charles coach Chad Smith expressed disappointment in not bringing home a championship.
“We showed a lot of heart and determination, and we’ve just got to work harder to get the end result,” Smith said.
With the score at 15-10 in favor of Lindenwood-St. Charles, Liberty earned a six-point win in the 184-pound weight class when Lindenwood had to forfeit. Liberty never looked back, winning the next three matches by decision.
“We gave up a forfeit all weekend,” Smith said.
Liberty had seven wrestlers pick up victories in the championship round. Ryan Miller defeated Michael Caldwell 14-13 at 133 pounds, Scott Clymer beat Jacob Janes 9-0 at 141, Chase Boontjer beat Cullen Halpin 2-1 at 157, Aaron Thompson outlasted Jed Mamie 3-2 at 197 and Nick Knowles won 9-2 against Spenser Daniels at 235 to clinch the championship for Liberty. Knowles was listed at 197 pounds but the forfeit in the 184-pound class allowed him to bump up.
Andrew Wilson defeated Austin Garcia by a 4-2 decision at 285. Royal Brettrager picked up the forfeit victory for the Flames.
Four Lindenwood-St. Charles wrestlers picked up wins in the championship round. Blake Shockley won the 125-pound round by technical foul against Jeremy Beale. Craig Chiles, who is listed at 141 pounds, defeated Peter Crawford at 149, 2-0. Daniel Breit won 9-1 against Mark Busse at 165, and Clayton McFarlane defeated Keyshaun Wood 5-0 at 174.
Liberty defeated the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the semifinals, 25-21. Lindenwood-St. Charles handled Grand Valley State University, 41-12, in that round.
In the third-place matchup, UMBC defeated GVSU, 31-10. Lindenwood-Belleville defeated Apprentice 27-22 for fifth place.
The rest of the field, in order of place, was: Mercer, Middle Tennessee State University, Marion Military, North Florida, Central Florida, Georgia Southern, Wichita State, East Tennessee State, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Southern Virginia, Carroll, Auburn, Georgia, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Con-necticut, Bowling Green and Toledo.