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NCWA National Duals Preview

NCWA NCWA National Duals PreviewBy:  Scott Farrell

DALLAS – Three new team entrants, plus one of the most balanced fields of NCWA incumbents in recent history, have spiced up expectations for the 2012 NCWA National Duals later this month.
The NCWA, the nation’s fastest-growing collegiate wrestling organization, returns to Dalton, Ga., for its National Duals Tournament that will be its largest yet from Jan. 27-28, 2012. The Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center will host the Duals for a second consecutive year, and among the 24-team field are former NAIA power Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.), former NCAA Division I member Liberty (Va.), and six of the NCWA’s top 10 programs in its most recent coaches’ poll.

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.

New to the NCWA field is Liberty University (Va.), 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 last decade and was the runner-up at last year’s NAIA National Duals, is another highlighted team that will get its first tests against NCWA competition. The Lions are new members of the NCWA in this 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 other National Duals entrants UCF, Maryland-Baltimore County (twice), North Florida and Marion Military Institute (Ala.). 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 were be outstanding semifinal matches between Liberty and UCF, and Lindenwood and Apprentice. That Final Four would pair two of the last 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 MTSU are co-hosts to the event.

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

Debut of High School Division

The NCWA will also unveil a new high school pilot program at the National Duals. 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 School (Ala.), currently the top-ranked team in Alabama, heads the field that will wrestle alongside the NCWA teams in each session. Chattanooga (Tenn.) Notre Dame and Cleveland (Tenn.), 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, which will wrestle all day Saturday, is another expansion by the NCWA into the rich wrestling tradition in the southeastern U.S. 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.

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.

Service Project Opens Tournament as Businesses Rally around Teams

Two other events make this year’s NCWA National Duals unique among its tournament brethren.

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 a local Dalton charity known as the “City of Refuge.” Each team will contribute to the homeless food pantry, and will send volunteers to the shelter to assist in serving lunch and dinner on Jan. 26.

The 6:12 Project is in its inaugural year, where each of the association’s programs contributes back to their community. The NCWA will conduct a service project at each of its championship events in those communities, as well.
This is the third time the NCWA has had its national championship events in Georgia. The NCWA held its National Duals team competition in Dalton last year, and Mercer University hosted the 2011 NCWA Championships in Macon last March.

The NCWA will also conduct a free clinic for local youth wrestling organizations with 6-8 of the NCWA’s top coaches working in the sessions.

Wrestling begins with the opening rounds at 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27. Wrestling continues on Saturday, Jan. 28, beginning 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.

Early Tournament Seeding

The preliminary seeding for the NCWA National Duals is as follows along with a note on each team. The final seeding will be done by the coaches on Jan. 26 prior to the event.

1. Liberty (Va.) – All eyes will be one the Flames to see how a team that wrested in NCAA Division I last year will fare within the NCWA. Liberty has excelled thus far in its first NCWA season, and most recently took third in the College Division of the Virginia Duals. Liberty already has dual wins over No. 3 seed Apprentice and No. 7 seed Middle Tennessee State. Liberty has two returning NCAA qualifiers in its lineup. If the seeding plays out in the championship bracket, a Liberty-UCF semifinal should prove to be one of the event’s featured matches.

2. Lindenwood-St. Charles (Mo.) – The five-time NAIA Champions enter their first season under the NCWA banner as immediate national contenders. The Lions were runners-up at last year’s NAIA National Duals and the NAIA Championships, and have three NAIA All-Americans and five NAIA national qualifiers back in their lineup.

3. The Apprentice School (Va.) – The Builders have ascended back to the top rung of the NCWA this season with three returning NCWA All-Americans and five national qualifiers. Apprentice topped UCF 27-21 at the Virginia Duals on Jan. 14, and also has dual wins this season over other National Duals entrants No. 5 UMBC (twice), No. 11 Marion Military and No. 12 North Florida.

4. Central Florida – One of the traditional NCWA stalwarts heads into the NCWA Duals boasting a strong dual lineup with a defending national champion in Josh Woods (235 lbs.) and another national qualifier. The Knights have split duals with No. 3-seed Apprentice, and also have wins over No. 8 Georgia Southern and No. 11 Marion Military from the NCWA National Duals field.

5. Maryland-Baltimore Country – The Retrievers return an NCWA finalist in Daniel Carr (149 lbs.), and six other NCWA national qualifiers to a team that is balanced up and down its roster. UMBC took fourth at the Ursuinus/Will Abele Invitational on Jan. 14.

6. Mercer – The Bears’ rise into the NCWA’s top 10 continues with a upstart dual team with two returning NCWA All-Americans and five NCWA national qualifiers. Mercer would get its toughest test yet in a prospective quarterfinal match against Liberty.

7. Middle Tennessee State – The Blue Raiders have wrestled arguably the NCWA’s toughest dual schedule to date, taking wins over No. 11 Lindenwood-Belleville, No. 14 East Tennessee State, No. 15 Cincinnati and Tennessee thus far. MTSU has three NCWA national qualifiers in its lineup. A prospective quarterfinal against UCF might determine the NCWA favorite heading into nationals in March.

8. Georgia Southern – Not having to travel far could play to the Eagles’ advantage. GSU has four returning NCWA national qualifiers.

9. Grand Valley State (Mich.) – The Lakers have won three of the four previous NCWA National Duals, but will have to wrestle above themselves to win again this year. Three NCWA All-Americans within GV’s dual roster may propel it into the quarterfinals and match between the Lakers, one of the NCWA’s top programs historically, against Liberty.

10. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Returning NCWA All-Americans Sam Shames (125 lbs.), Ryan Madson (157) and Jacob Laux (197) head up a solid and consistent dual lineup. MIT could be set for an underdog run into the semifinals.

11. Marion Military Institute (Ala.) – The 2010 NCWA National Duals champions always surprise at NCWA championship events as one of the NCWA’s toughest teams year-in and year-out.

12. North Florida – The Ospreys made a splash on the NCWA scene last year, and look to continue their impressive run at the National Duals. UNF has three NCWA All-Americans and three other national qualifiers in its lineup.

13. Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) – Lost by one point to No. 7 MTSU on Jan. 7.
14. East Tennessee State – Has five returning NCWA national qualifiers in the lineup.
15. Cincinnati – Returns one NCWA All-American and three national qualifiers.
16. Wichita State – Aaron Hynick (NCWA champion in 2010 at 165) leads the lineup.
17. Carroll Univ. (Wis.)
18. Southern Virginia
19. Toledo
20. Bowling Green
21. Connecticut
22. Tennessee
23. Georgia
24. Auburn

Story and preview information provided by Scott Farrell, the NCWA Sports Information Director.