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NCWA Championships Preview

03/13/2014 -

The NCWA Championships already have a leader before the tournamentís first match begins. But whether the precious few points Grand Canyon leads the rest of the field by can stand up over the three-day tournament will be a test of the Antelopesí endurance against deeper, if not always equal, overall talent.
Thereís little room for error for GCU as it starts the nationals with 24 team points. Under the NCWAís new championship scoring system, the Antelopes earned their place as the favorite with their Collegiate Cup championship in January. A teamís finish there determined how many points Ė from 24 for first place down to 1 descending by place Ė a team would carry into the nationals scoreboard and give those schools a significant leg up as the tournament begins Thursday in Allen, Texas, on the northern edge of Dallas.
Per NCWA rules as a transition team, GCU is only allowed one qualifier per weight class. It qualified its full starting lineup of 11 wrestlers, and Collegiate Cup runner-up Shorter, another transition team, has 10 qualifiers. But current third-place Liberty (22 points) has a tourney-high 17 wrestlers entered, with Apprentice (fourth, 21 pts.), Central Florida (fifth, 20 pts.) and Grand Valley State (sixth, 19 pts.) each have 13 qualifiers.
GCU and Shorter wrestlers are seeded at or near the top of every bracket. But a loss at any weight opens the door for the deeper teams to gain ground, and every match pairing those top six schools in any round is vital to each teamís title chances.
Then thereís teams such as the U.S. Naval Academy Prep School, the U.S. Military Academy Prep School, West Chester and Maryland-Baltimore County, schools with deep enough rosters to make a big dent on the tournament scoreboard, but because they didnít compete at the Collegiate Cup, may not have the head-start point total to move high enough to contend for top-five honors.
Among the story lines at the three-day tournament is the chase for perfection by the nine undefeated wrestlers in the field. At least two of them will have to take a loss, as MITís Sam Shames (35-0) and Libertyís Ryan Diehl (30-0) are seeded 1-2 in the 133-lb. bracket, and Zachary Belway (9-0) of Yale and Paul Ardila (9-0) of Georgia are on opposite sides of the 197 bracket.
Ben Smith (18-0) also has an impressive record and is the top seed at 125. Other undefeated wrestlers are Northwest Missouri Stateís Travis Peter (4-0, 141 lbs.), Parker Maytrott (11-0, 174) of the U.S. Military Academy Prep, Saginaw Valley Stateís Dominick Wiggins (14-0, 235 lbs.), and Greydon Pavlik (5-0, 285) of Bowling Green.
Shames is one of two wrestlers who are back to defend their national championships from a year ago. Shames will be wrestling in the 133-lb. class after taking the 125 title last year. Santiago Martinez of Central Florida won last yearís 157 bracket after placing second in 2012.
There are two wrestlers who have won national titles, but are not defending champions. Aaron Thompson of Liberty was unable to defend his title won in 2012 and took second last year. Josh Woods of Central Florida won the 2011 title at 235 and was the runner-up in 2012. He took fourth at 235 last year.
In all there are 30 NCWA All-Americans returning to compete in the 2014 field.

The team scores entering the NCWA Championships are:

1. Grand Canyon - 24
2. Shorter - 23
3. Liberty - 22
4. Apprentice - 21
5. Central Florida - 20
6. Grand Valley State - 19
7. Mott CC - 18
8. Middle Tennessee - 17
9. Mercer - 15
10. North Florida - 14
11. Marion Military Inst. - 11
12. East Tennessee State - 9
13. Southern Virginia - 8
14. Tennessee Temple - 7

1. South Florida - 16
2. MIT - 13
3. Florida Gulf Coast - 12
4. Stony Brook - 10
5. Texas - 6
6. Connecticut - 5
7. Toledo - 4
8. South Carolina - 3