Apr 24, 2007

Track sweeps Big South Championship

by Will Luper, Sports Reporter
The Liberty Flames men’s track team took off running this weekend and did not look back and cruised to an easy finish in the Big South Championship with top honors.

The Lady Flames came into a meet where they were expected to take third or maybe even second place, but instead fought a hard battle to emerge victorious as the number one team.

The last time Liberty captured both men and women’s team titles was 2002.

The Liberty men finished the tournament with a total of 248 points. Coastal Carolina placed a distant second with 174 points.

Junior Josh McDougal had another stellar weekend, winning the 10,000-meter run, the 5,000-meter run and the 1,500-meter run with ease.

“This will be a confidence booster for us,” said McDougal, commenting on the strong performance by the Flames men.

“Our guys are coming together as a team, and we’re going to go out there and get some points.”
McDougal was one of the many Flames athletes that set new records this weekend as he finished his 5,000-meter run with a meet record time of 14:06.88.

Joining him was junior John Hart, who set new meet records in shot put and hammer throw.
“It was encouraging,” said Hart. “It’s always flattering to get a record.”

His teammate — junior Clendon Henderson — who also set a new meet record in the discus throw, agreed.

“It’s definitely nice to set records,” said Henderson.
“God’s really blessed me to get me where I am today.”

Henderson was the only Flame named to the men’s Big South All-Academic team.

The Lady Flames had a bit more of a hurdle to jump over coming into this weekend.

The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers had won the Big South meet for the past three years and were the heavy favorites going into the competition. Liberty trained hard and felt prepared to dethrone the champs.

The Flames’ hard work paid off as they finished with 245 points, only 13.5 points ahead of second place Coastal Carolina.

“We were definitely the underdogs…. They are getting it done in form,” said Head Coach Brant Tolsma.

Sophomore Rebekah Ricksecker attributed it to the momentum gained after the women’s 4 x 100 meter relay was unexpectedly dominated by the Lady Flames.
“It’s a real answer to prayer, really,” said Ricksecker.

“We kept gaining momentum, and it just really kept going.”

Senior Arlene Zelinskas spearheaded the effort, as she picked up 36 points in the high jump, 100-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles and the long jump.

Zelinskas was also honored as the female scholar athlete of the year, and she was named to the women’s Big South All-Academic team.

Ricksecker picked up top honors in the 1,500-meter run with a final time of 4:33.41.
Junior Piper Newby crossed the finish line in first place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
When the sun went down on Friday, the Lady Flames were only up by seven points on the defending champion Chanticleers.

However, the first women’s track event on Saturday gave them the confidence they needed to pull away from the pack.

The women’s 4 x 100 relay team was actually running together for only the second time, but it was one for the record books.

Sophomore Andrea Beckles, junior Charlene Hibbert, sophomore Tra’ Screen and Zelinskas not only set a facility and meet record but a Big South Conference record as they finished in 45.95 seconds.
While this was a big win for the Flames, the focus is on the future.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Hart. “As good as we’ve been in the past, you can take a step back and realize that this is the best team we’ve ever had. We’ve got bigger things in mind.”

Ricksecker agreed. “Momentum from this meet is really great,” she said.

“My number one goal is to get to nationals,” said Henderson.

Hart also noted that the team is largely made up of juniors and can only improve.
“It’s only going to get better,” he said.

The Liberty men and women will return to action on April 26 in Philadelphia at the Penn Relays.

Contact Will Luper at wluper@liberty.edu.
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