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Lib­er­ty Leads After First Day As Jef­frey Allen Eyes a Fourth Title

| Scott Farrell

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Liberty began pursuit of its record fifth consecutive NCWA title in a big way Thursday with a battery of 18 wrestlers that still have a dozen alive in the championship brackets. Already with a cushion over second-place Apprentice and with three more wrestlers in the quarterfinals than the Builders, the title could be the Flames’ to lose.

That sets up the bulk of Friday’s matches as appetizers before the 235-pound class takes the floor and one of the day’s highlights begin. That’s when the Flames’ Jeffrey Allen appears for his quarterfinal match working on his own pursuit of history. Allen is the three-time national champion at 235 and now sits just three wins away from becoming the NCWA’s first four-time champion.

Six wrestlers have won three national titles. Allen was the most recent to do it last season along with 149-pounder Ty-Rae Carter of Texas A&M, and 26 wrestlers have won two.

No one has ever claimed four.

And with only four of the top eight seeds in the 235 bracket advancing to the quarterfinals, including Liberty teammate Seth Ellsmore, the record fourth title is well within Allen’s sight. Allen, 27-2 this season and undefeated against NCWA competition, faces eighth-seeded Jeffrey Worster of the Maine Maritime Academy when the men’s quarterfinal session begins at 9 a.m. locally Friday.

Liberty leads the field and the Flames have quarterfinalists in nine weight classes and two wrestlers still in title quests at 125 (Chase Arnestad and Dante Mininno), 197 (Josiah Murphy and Sean Gillespie) and 235 with Allen and Ellsmore. Allen isn’t alone at the top of his bracket. Defending NCWA champions Ian McIlhenny (157) and Frederick Weaver (285) remain alive as the top seeds in their bracket along with Murphy and Allen.

Liberty wrestlers won’t win every class. But its depth will likely simply outlast everyone else.

Apprentice has nine wrestlers still in title contention and another five in consolation. There are no two programs and no two lineups as familiar with each other as Liberty and Apprentice. Familiarity could breed some upsets. For the Builders, a strong showing Friday morning could threaten Liberty if they can get a handful of key wins. Caleb Olgers faces Mininno in the 125 quarterfinals and Apprentice’s Landon Kissell faces Liberty’s two-seed and 2022 NCWA runner-up David Over in the 165 quarters. There are three potential semifinal matchups that could shake the standings if both Liberty and Apprentice wrestlers advance.

Another of the NCWA’s blue bloods, Grand Valley State, sits just behind Apprentice with six wrestlers still in title contention and seven others in consolations. Springfield Tech is in fourth with third-highest total (eight) within the championship brackets, Grays Harbor College and Washington State also posted strong first days. The Ohio State Wrestling Club sits atop the Division II programs ready to unseat four-time D-II champion Penn State Wrestling Club.

Please see a separate story recapping Thursday’s weight class-by-weight class results.

The day was also a boost for Bellarmine University, which beat Liberty for the NCWA’s National Duals title in January. The Knights, a program in transition toward NCAA Division I status next season, are wrestling within the NCWA’s postseason, the only competition for which they are eligible as they transition. Of the eight wrestlers Bellarmine brought to Puerto Rico, seven of them remain in title contention with one other in consolation. The Knights are in eighth place after the first day.

The other big winner on the day was Puerto Rico in general. The NCWA Championships, with 613 wrestlers entered in 22 men’s and women’s weight classes, is largest collegiate sporting event in Puerto Rico’s history. The NCWA elected to host its championships in Puerto Rico as part of its bold undertaking to bring folkstyle wrestling to the colleges and universities on the island.

Seven of the island’s universities – Ana G. Mendez, Caribbean Univ., Interamerican Univ. of Puerto Rico and the four campuses of the Univ. of Puerto Rico in Arecibo, Humacao, Mayaguez and Rio Piedras – cut the ribbon on the new Puerto Rico Conference last month and debuted Thursday at the NCWA Championships. Among them, Interamerican sits in 44th place overall (out of 73) with 10.5 points.

That group joined five other universities who are competing at the NCWA Championships for the first time – Louisville, Queens Univ. of Charlotte, Treasure Valley Community College (Ore.), the Univ. of British Columbia and the Univ. of Dubuque Wrestling Club. Dubuque is tied for 30th place with 16.5 points.

Friday’s schedule begins with the men’s quarterfinals and a consolation round at 9 a.m. followed by the first rounds of the women’s division at 10 a.m. The evening session will have the men wrestling a blood-round consolation with the women contesting their semifinals and a consolation round at 5 p.m. The men’s semifinals and the women’s blood rounds begin at 7 p.m.

All of the NCWA’s results are available at