Liberty Pushes Ahead With Five Finalists, 11 All-Americans
ALLEN, Texas – Liberty surged in the semifinals Friday night to place five wrestlers in the finals and still has six alive in the consolation placing rounds to take a 16.5-point lead over The Apprentice School after two days at the NCWA Championships. The Flames were 5-2 in semifinals matches to set up their shot at the repeating as NCWA champions with their third national title overall.
The Flames are atop the standings after two days with 159.5 points, ahead of Apprentice’s 143 points with that pair comfortably ahead of the rest of the field. Central Florida and Mott Community College (Mich.) are tied for third with 103 points, followed by Springfield Tech Community College (Mass.) (98.5), Grand Valley State (91.5) and Grays Harbor College (Wash.) (79.5).
Wrestling begins at 9 a.m. Saturday with the third-place semifinal matches and continues through the morning. The finals matches will start after the All-America March-in Ceremony at 6 p.m. Full, live results and video can be found at arena.flowrestling.org.
Austin Amos started a key Liberty run in the last three weight classes with a 5-2 win over Deontay Wadley of the Penn State Wrestling Club in a 197-pound semifinal. It was Amos who clinched Liberty’s title last year by a half-point over Apprentice with a win in the 235 final. This time, the second-seeded and now two-time All-American Amos (38-4) will face Apprentice’s top seed in Ross Graham (13-4), who won the 197 bracket as a freshman a year ago.
The NCWA has highlighted the Graham vs. Amos match by placing it last in the evening’s finals slate and will start the 6 p.m. Finals matches with the 235 class. Graham pinned Central Florida’s Jarrod Smiley in 3:36 in his semifinal to set up the featured title bout.
Jeffrey Allen, a freshman and the top seed at 235, followed Amos with his 42nd win of the season, a 10-4 decision over Octavio Alejandre of Grays Harbor College. Then in the 285 class in a match that was Friday’s last on the mats, Dominick Johnson posted arguably Liberty’s biggest win of the day but took overtime to do it. Johnson, the third seed with a 27-8 record, trailed UNLV’s second-seed and previously undefeated Jordan Karst, 4-3, in the first overtime after giving up an escape. In the second overtime with both wrestlers locked in the center circle and with Karst in control with time running out, Johnson scored a reversal with seven seconds left to win 5-4 and push Liberty’s lead out by four more points in the day’s last match.
Johnson will face four-time All-American Jesse Gaudin of Central Florida in the heavyweight final in what should be another feature match. Gaudin (12-2) is back in the finals after a fourth-place finish last year. He was the heavyweight runner-up in 2017 and 2016. The senior also kept an impressive streak alive that has had at least one UCF wrestler reach the finals for a ninth consecutive season.
Allen, meanwhile, will face one of the tournament’s good stories, William Farparan of the University of Tampa. Farparan, a junior, is one of two qualifiers from Tampa’s first-year NCWA program and enters the title match undefeated on the season at 18-0.
Liberty and Apprentice will also face off in the 157 final when the one of the NCWA wins leaders, Chad Simmons (44-9) of Apprentice, takes on Liberty’s returning All-American Andrew Burgette (33-6). Simmons is a two-time All-American as the 157 runner-up last year who also took 5th at 165 in 2017. Burgette placed eighth at 157 last year.
Samuel Karel (20-8) is Liberty’s other finalist in the 174 class, and matches up against Toledo junior Major Moore (15-1). Liberty (five), Apprentice (four), Toledo (two) and Mott (two) are the only teams to have multiple finalists. The Flames still alive in consolations are Charles Hudson (141), Charles Cantrell (149), Luke Ely (165), Cody Richmond (174), Josh McIlhenny (184) and David Smith (285).
With the 235 bout leading off the finals, either a Liberty or an Apprentice wrestler will appear in the first four title matches. The Flames’ Allen and Johnson are the first half of that string, although Apprentice also has John Pierce (235) and Steven Francisco (285) wrestling in consolations at 235 as well. The last half belong to the Builders, and if Apprentice is to make a run at the title it will come from the results of defending 125-pound champion Colton Messick (45-8) and 133-finalist Kolin Johnson. Messick faces David Campbell (12-1) of Grays Harbor, the first wrestler in the Chokers’ NCWA history to reach the finals. Kolin Johnson (38-10) has his hands full in his finals bout against now three-time All-American Brendan Hazelton (30-1) of Grand Valley State. Hazelton has a 10-2 major decision over Kolin Johnson from earlier in the season at the NCWA National Duals.
Apprentice could get an immediate push from John Pierce in the 235 class. Pierce faces Liberty’s David Smith in a third-place semifinal in a third matchup between the tournament’s top two teams. Tristan Mabe (149) and Steven Francisco (285) are the Builders’ other All-American wrestlers in Saturday’s placing rounds.
Toledo’s Zach Blevins (33-2) looks to defend his title at 149 pounds taking on Texas A&M’s Ty’Rae Carter in a rematch of the 149 final from a year ago. Blevins beat Carter 10-4 in that match.
Florida Gulf Coast has its first finalist in program history in 184-pounder Jabari Irons, who as the seventh-seed is the lowest-seeded wrestler to reach Saturday's finals. Irons (16-0), the Southeast Conference champion, had two pins in the early rounds plus a technical fall in the round of 16 to advance through the bracket. He upset second-seeded Josh McIlhenny of Liberty 5-3 in sudden victory to move to the semifinals. The junior then topped George Andrews of UConn 6-4 to reach the finals.
Karst, 19-1 as a graduate student at UNLV, will battle for third place to start off Saturday’s action but has already become the Rebels’ first All-American in the program’s second season. Big Bend Community College (Wash.) will finish off its first season in the NCWA with Eduardo Rodriguez as its first All-American. Rodriguez, the eighth-seed, will wrestle for placing in the 133 bracket. The Fresno State Wrestling Club posted its second All-American, Matthew Gamble, since it re-formed four seasons ago.
Liberty would be the sixth team to repeat as NCWA champions in the 22 NCWA Championships.
In the Division II race, the Penn State Wrestling Club is in position to defend its divisional crown with 53 points. The Nittany Lions are 5.5 points ahead of Connecticut, which has three wrestlers still alive. Tampa (38.5) is not far behind in third.
The women’s division offers one of the tournament’s highlights as Marina Goocher (4-4) aims for her fourth consecutive NCWA title. Only one other NCWA wrestler, male or female – Samantha Frank of Maine – has won four straight national titles.
Goocher is the favorite in the 123 class after winning titles in the 130 (2018, 2016) and 136 (2017) brackets. Goocher will face Apprentice’s Erin Aragon in the final. Both Goocher and Aragon earned two pins to reach the 123 final. Also in the 123 bracket is Fresno State’s Rossana Aguilar, who is now a four-time All-American. Aragon pinned Aguilar in the semifinals, setting Aguilar up for a third-place match Saturday against Big Bend’s Lynette Samano.
Schreiner University is in the lead going into Saturday with 54 points, but is just a half-point ahead of Grays Harbor as they jockey for the title following a seven-year run by Southwestern Oregon Community College. Those two schools will have three Saturday matches to help determine the champion, including the last two title bouts of the day when Miriam De La Garza of Schreiner faces Mariah Stewart of Grays Harbor in the 191 final, followed by Alyssa Alvarez (Schreiner) taking on Jackie Castro of GHC. Liliana Madani (Schreiner) faces Audrey Bucher (GHC) in the 170 third-place match as well.