Liberty triathletes tune up for nationals at Smithfield Sprint
March 25, 2017 | Smithfield, Va.
Liberty University's triathlon team showed excellent progress and experienced tremendous success in Saturday's Smithfield Sprint Triathlon, its final race before the April 21-22 USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"It was a really, really good confidence booster for a lot of our guys," Flames Head Coach Parker Spencer said. "We had six guys in the top 10 overall (among college athletes) and no one even came close to us, competing against complete teams from VCU, Virginia, JMU, and Delaware. UVA had its best athletes there. They actually beat us in the conference race last year, but we just destroyed them, so it was really good to see all of our hard work pay off."
Thomas Sonnery-Cottet, a freshman from France, was the overall winner out of 531 participants in 45 minutes, 41 seconds. He had the second-fastest 300-meter swim time (3:31) and 10-mile cycling time (23:29) and third-fastest 5K run (17:32) to finish nearly a minute in front of sophomore teammate Greg Schott, the runner-up in 46:38.
"Thomas is definitely looking extremely strong and could contend for the national championship," Spencer said. "The guy who came out of the water first at nationals last year (UVA's Matt Van De Graaf) was also in this race and Thomas beat him by two seconds in the swim split."
Spencer, racing with his team, finished fourth overall in 46:45, just two seconds behind George Washington's Britt Kaukeinen. He was followed by Flames freshman Tyler Figgins (fifth in 47:22), Adam Williams (ninth in 48:12), freshman Sam Blackmon (11th in 49:18), and sophomore Travis Fehr (13th in 50:08). Complete results are available online.
"The team is really shaping up to be competitive," Spencer said, noting none of the top four finishers have been to nationals. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people in Alabama and our guys are hungry for it. I would say there's no other environment like it, with 1,500 college students all racing for the same goal. That's on the forefront of their mind and they're pushing toward it in every practice."
The Lady Flames also placed three triathletes in the top 10 among collegiate competitors — junior Madeline Griffin (16th out of 219 women in 1:02:35), freshman Heather Ziebart (19th in 1:03:12), and Mattasyn Shisler (22nd in 1:04:43), followed by fellow sophomores Caela Dunagan (32nd in 1:06:43), Shannon Wade (38th in 1:07:19), Sarah Parker (41st 1:07:44), and Julia Rothenberger (45th in 1:08:37).
Spencer is fairly confident Megan Merryman, who broke her collarbone on a cycling wreck at the Clermont (Fla.) Draft-Legal Challenge, will be ready to return at nationals.
"She's healing remarkably fast," he said. "She's already running and cycling and should be back swimming again soon. This is her senior year, and her last national championship race, so we're going to do everything we can to have her ready for it."
Several of Liberty's triathletes will travel with the cycling team over the next two weekends to focus on that phase of their training — at races hosted by Maryland on Saturday and Johns Hopkins on Sunday in Baltimore and Appalachian State (N.C.) on April 8-9.
That same weekend, Spencer will join Schott, who's a professional off-road triathlete, for XTERRA Costa Rica, featuring a 1,500-meter swim, 30K mountain bike ride, and 10K trail run.
The cycling team is currently in sixth place with 295 points in the ACCC standings — behind Appalachian State (498), Navy (475), Virginia Tech (338), Maryland (302), and Duke (302) — but could move up into the top four with strong showings over the next two weekends before junior Jake King and sophomore Gabe Morgan travel with Spencer to Colorado for the USA Cycling Collegiate National Championships.