Liberty tops Emmanuel 30-15 for Duals Title, GVSU Third

January 27, 2018 | Scott Farrell and Ted Allen

LYNCHBURG, Va. -- No one repeats as the NCWA National Duals champion. No one. 

That played out again this year as Liberty won the final six bouts to rally and beat defending champion Emmanuel College, 30-15, for the Duals title and a leg up on the field heading into the NCWA Championships in March. Grand Valley State took third, beating surprising Springfield Tech 28-18. 

The Flames, seeded second behind Central Florida and host of the two-day event, kept Emmanuel from becoming the first team in the 10-year history of the National Duals as an NCWA Championship event to win back-to-back titles. In the 13-year history of the event, only one team has repeated as champion. Grand Valley State won three straight National Duals titles in tournaments contested as part of the NWCA National Duals in 2007-08, and won again in 2009 when the tournament became an official NCWA-sponsored championship. 

Liberty turned the dual around with its middle weights after trailing 15-3 following the 157-pound match. Perhaps a little administrative pressure added to the charge, as well. 

"Admittedly, being down 3-15 was an obstacle that only by the grace of God we could overcome," Liberty head coach Jesse Castro said. "I turned around and lo and behold I see my boss, (Senior Vice President of Auxiliary Services) Lee Beaumont, and he asked the question, ‘What do you think? Can this be done?' He kind of inspired us to turn it around and make it happen."

Joe Scott, a sophomore 165-pound transfer from Washington & Lee, sparked the comeback with a 10-2 major decision over Emmanuel's J.A. Jones.

"Joe brings a lot of experience and a lot of confidence with him," Castro said. "He's a game-changer for us as a program. We had to get a win from him and he garnered momentum after his match."

Sophomore 174-pounder Sam Karel pulled the Flames back within 15-13 by turning Calvin Nimely to his back on the edge of the mat, where he finished the fall at the 1:29 mark with both wrestlers nearly out of bounds. Then, junior co-captain Josh McIlhenny escaped in the final minute of the third period to tie his match with Melvin Mimely at 3-3. He fought off a single-leg takedown attempt with both wrestlers on their feet for a sudden-death takedown of his own on the edge of the mat, lifting Liberty to a 16-15 advantage that it wouldn't give up. 

Junior 197-pound co-captain Taylor Westlake scored a 6-4 decision over Emmanuel's Richard Walker before senior 235-pounder Austin Amos sealed the team triumph by soundly defeating Kyle Graham by 15-0 technical fall in 3:54. Liberty earned its last six points via a medical forfeit at heavyweight. 

The match turnaround was especially satisfying for Liberty after losing to Emmanuel by a 33-13 count in last year's final. 

"We came together as a team, worked hard and together as one, esprit de corps," Castro said.

"We are a far different team than we were last year," added McIlhenny. "From 125 to heavyweight we're strong, and if we get going I feel like we're unstoppable once we're rolling."

Liberty had perhaps the toughest road in the tournament, having to advance past the other three top seeds in Saturday's championship rounds. The Flames, 5-0 overall in the tournament, opened with a 39-15 romp over top-seeded Central Florida in the quarterfinals. UCF suffered an upset in the pool rounds to eventual fourth-place finisher Springfield Tech, creating an unusual 1-vs.-2 matchup in the quarters. 

The Flames then found swept by third-seeded Grand Valley State in surprising fashion, 44-6, to set up a finals rematch with fourth-seeded Emmanuel. McIlhenny clinched the win over Grand Valley State with a come-from-behind 8-5 decision over Brenden DeVries earlier in the day.

A foursome of freshmen got the Flames off to solid starts in most of their matches. Keegan Smith filled a void at 125 pounds, a weight class Liberty forfeited in every match last season, and a trio of Lynchburg-area locals — Blake Justis at 133, Reid Stewart at 141, and Chad Cantrell at 141 — gave Liberty the early momentum it needed against Central Florida to open the day. 

"As a freshman, Reid Stewart comes in and beats the returning national champion from UCF," McIlhenny said. "That just takes the wind out of their whole team's sails. That was huge and it really turned the tide for us. It was awesome."

Stewart believes the Duals title will make the Flames, who will take 16 points into the NCWA Championships March 8-10 in Allen, Texas based on their Duals title, are the favorites to sweep the titles as they did in 2015.

"We've got the team, we've got the camaraderie, we've got all of the tools to do some damage in the national tournament," he said.

In the third-place match, Grand Valley State opened with two tech falls from Sean Halverson and Brendan Hazelton for a 10-0 lead, then pulled out to a 19-6 advantage with a 20-17 tiebreaker decision from Joseph Posledni at 157 pounds and a pin from Jacob Sobeck at 165. Springfield Tech, seeded seventh and an upstart semifinalist before falling there 32-12 to Emmanuel 32-12, got within seven at 22-15 after the 197 match. But the Lakers' Mitchell Krahulik sealed the win with a first-period pin at 235. 

UCF recovered to place fifth, edging Apprentice 28-27 on criteria (6-to-5 wins) in its finals match. Maryland-Baltimore County took seventh with a 33-21 win over Middle Tennessee. 

Also of note was the teams from Grays Harbor College (Wash.) and Washington State. They were the first NCWA teams from the Northwest Conference to qualify and compete at the National Duals. Grays Harbor finished ninth and Washington State took 15th in the 16-team field to earn team points toward this month's national championships. 

Championship Match
Liberty 30, Emmanuel 15
125 lbs. - Alberto Perez, Emmanuel, dec. Keegan Smith, 12-9
133 lbs. — Emery Cline, Emmanuel, pinned Blake Justis, 6:18
141 lbs. — Reid Stewart, Liberty, dec. Michael Harris, 4-2
149 lbs. — Jay Sheppard, Emmanuel, dec. Chad Cantrell, 10-8
157 lbs. — Hunter Quinn, Emmanuel, dec. Andrew Burgette, 12-7
165 lbs. — Joe Scott, Liberty, major dec. over J.A. Jones, 10-2
174 lbs. — Sam Karel, Liberty, pinned Calvin Nimely, 1:29
184 lbs. — Josh McIlhenny, Liberty, dec. Melvin Nimely, 5-3
197 lbs. — Taylor Westlake, Liberty, dec. Richard Walker, 6-4
235 lbs. — Austin Amos, Liberty, tech. fall over Kyle Graham, 15-0
285 lbs. — Dominick Johnson, Liberty, medical forfeit over Makkah Couzon

Finals Matches
Championship - Liberty 30, Emmanuel 15
Third-Place - Grand Valley 28, Springfield Tech 18
Fifth-Place - UCF 28, Apprentice 27 <by criteria 6 to 5 wins>
Seventh-Place - UMBC 33, Middle Tennessee 21

(4) Emmanuel 32, (7) Springfield Tech 12
(2) Liberty 44, (3) Grand Valley 6

Fifth-Place Consolation Semifinals
Apprentice 39, UMBC 19 
UCF 52, Middle Tennessee 4

(7) Springfield Tech 44, (8) UMBC 10
(4) Emmanuel 26, (5) Apprentice 21
(3) Grand Valley State 32, (6) Middle Tennessee 21
(2) Liberty 39, (1) UCF 15

9th place - Grays Harbor 33, Toledo 19 
11th place - Alfred State 34, Maine 22
13th place - Penn State WC 6, Temple 0
15th place - Washington State 1, RPI 0

Consolation Semifinals
Toledo 30, Alfred State 28
Grays Harbor 48, Maine 11

Consolation Quarterfinals
Alfred State 1, RPI 0
Toledo 26, Temple 24
Maine 26, Penn State WC 22
Grays Harbor 43, Washington State 16

13th-Place Consolation Semifinals
Temple 1, RPI 0
Penn State WC 33, Washington State 18

Team Points Earned for NCWA Championships
(includes points from Regional Duals tournament also)

Division I
Liberty - 16
Emmanuel - 15
Grand Valley State - 14
Springfield Tech - 13
Central Florida - 12
Apprentice - 11
Md.-Baltimore County - 10
Middle Tennessee - 9
Grays Harbor - 8
Toledo - 7
Alfred State - 6
BYU - 6
Maine - 5
Wayne State - 4
Temple - 3
Richland College - 2
Washington State - 2

Division II
Colorado State - 5
Penn State WC - 4
Dixie State - 3
UNLV - 1