January 24, 2012

NCWA ready to rumble

Three new participating teams and one of the most balanced fields of National Collegiate Wrestling Association incumbents in recent history have spiced up expectations for this week’s 2012 NCWA National Duals in Dalton.

The NCWA, the nation’s fastest-growing collegiate wrestling organization, returns to the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center on Friday and Saturday for the NCWA National Duals Tournament that will be its largest yet.

Among the 24-team field are former NAIA power Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.), former NCAA Division I member Liberty University (Va.), and six of the NCWA’s top 10 programs in its most recent coaches poll.

Wrestling begins with the opening rounds at 10 a.m. Friday, then continues on Saturday with the championship bracket openers at 9 a.m., followed by rounds at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. (quarterfinals), 5 p.m. (semifinals) and the 7 p.m. finals matches.

The 2012 NCWA National Duals also features an inaugural high school division, and a first-of-its-kind Women’s North vs. South College All-Star Dual.

Two-day passes to the event are $20 for adults and $10 for students, with ages younger than 10 admitted free with a paying adult.

Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (DACVB) Executive Director Bret Huske is glad to have the duals back in Dalton.

“This is an exciting event that is expected to generate over $200,000 in economic impact,” he said. “The NCWA has been all over the world, but they’ve chosen to return to Dalton because of our hospitality. We’re really looking forward to hosting them again ...”

New to the NCWA field is Liberty, an NCAA Division I program a year ago that found a home in the NCWA once the school dropped it from its athletic department. The Flames have fared well in the NCWA thus far, with multiple dual wins behind two returning NCAA qualifiers in its lineup. The Flames topped fellow NCWA member The Apprentice School (Va.), 30-15, for third place in the college division of the Virginia Duals earlier this month.

Lindenwood-St. Charles, which won five NAIA championships in the past decade and was the runner-up at last year’s NAIA National Duals, is another team that will get its first tests against NCWA competition. The Lions are new members of the NCWA in their first transitional year as they move into the NCAA Division II ranks. They have three NAIA All-Americans and five NAIA national qualifiers back in their lineup.

Liberty and Lindenwood, seeded 1-2 in the preliminary seeding, will garner much of the attention. But NCWA incumbent powers Central Florida, Apprentice and three-time National Duals champion Grand Valley State (Mich.) are preparing for their first shots at their new NCWA peers.

Apprentice, seeded third, already has dual wins this season over National Duals entrants UCF, Maryland-Baltimore County (twice), North Florida and Alabama’s Marion Military Institute. The Builders beat No. 4 UCF 27-21 at the recent Virginia Duals.

UCF, seeded fourth, has placed among the top five teams at the NCWA Championships every year since 2003. The Knights’ deep lineup has fared well thus far against a schedule that has taken them across the country. UCF tied for fifth in the College Division of the Virginia Duals after losing to eventual champion Brockport in the semifinals.

Should the preliminary seeding play out, there could be outstanding semifinal matches between Liberty and UCF, and Lindenwood and Apprentice. That scenario would pair two of the past three NCWA national champions against a former NAIA champion and a former NCAA Division I team.

UMBC is seeded fifth heading into the tournament, followed by No. 6 Mercer, No. 7 Middle Tennessee State, No. 8 Georgia Southern, No. 9 Grand Valley State and No. 10 MIT. Mercer and Middle Tennessee are co-hosts to the event.

Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.), another new NCWA program that is seeded 13th, will compete as well. The 24-team also includes Auburn, Bowling Green, Carroll (Wis.), Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Tennessee State, Georgia, Georgia Southern, Southern Virginia, Tennessee, Toledo and Wichita State.

This is the third NCWA championship event hosted in Georgia, which was one of the first states where colleges and universities took advantage of NCWA membership while their programs were being retracted in other major collegiate organizations two decades ago.

There are eight NCWA programs on college campuses in Georgia, including a Division I program at Mercer. Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, Armstrong Atlantic State, Gordon College and North Georgia College are all NCWA Division II members as emerging programs.

The NCWA held its National Duals team competition in Dalton last year, and Mercer University hosted the 2011 NCWA Championships in Macon last March.

• HIGH SCHOOL DEBUT: The NCWA will also unveil a new high school pilot program at the event. The tournament will add a high school division this year with a regional field for now, with plans to expand it to become the first true high school national duals in the future.

Thompson High, currently the top-ranked team in Alabama, heads the field that will wrestle alongside the NCWA teams in each session. Chattanooga’s Notre Dame and Cleveland, each ranked among Tennessee’s top-10 teams, as well as Walker Valley (Tenn.) and Grissom (Ala.) are also scheduled to attend. At least two teams from Georgia are remaking schedules so as to make the tournament a three-state field at its start.

The high school division will wrestle all day Saturday.

• THEY ALSO SERVE: Also of note in this year’s NCWA National Duals is each team’s participation in the NCWA’s “6:12 Project,” which will serve City of Refuge-Dalton. Each team will contribute to the organization’s food pantry and send volunteers to its shelter to assist in serving lunch and dinner on Thursday.

The NCWA will also conduct a free clinic for local youth wrestling organizations with six to eight of the NCWA’s top coaches working in the sessions.

• SEEDS SLATED: The preliminary seeding for the NCWA National Duals is as follows — the final seeding will be done by the coaches on Thursday:

1. Liberty (Va.); 2. Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.); 3. The Apprentice School (Va.); 4. Central Florida; 5. Maryland-Baltimore County; 6. Mercer; 7. Middle Tennessee State; 8. Georgia Southern; 9. Grand Valley State (Mich.); 10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology; 11. Marion Military Institute (Ala.); 12. North Florida; 13. Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.); 14. East Tennessee State; 15. Cincinnati; 16. Wichita State; 17. Carroll (Wis.); 18. Southern Virginia; 19. Toledo; 20. Bowling Green; 21. Connecticut; 22. Tennessee; 23. Georgia; 24. Auburn.

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