Feb 16, 2010

Liberty Track & Field Competes at Home, and in Arkansas

by Daniel Martinez

It is not often that you will see a team of male pole-vaulters run a 4-by-400 relay in a competitive meet.

Yet that very spectacle was on display Friday night in Liberty University’s Tolsma Indoor Track Center, in the waning minutes of the Liberty Quad. It was part of the track and field team’s way at celebrating the last meet before the Big South Conference Championship, which is two weeks away.

And so, as most spectators and visiting athletes and coaches trickled out of the gym and the clock ticked pass 9 p.m., Liberty pole-vaulters, runners, hurdlers and jumpers stood together, male and female alike, cheering and clapping for four guys who really had no business running and passing batons.

“Today was great for team unity,” sophomore runner and hurdler Melanie Sims said.

Between the quad meet and the weekend’s Tyson Invitational meet in Fayetteville, Ark. — which a handful of athletes attended — it was, indeed, a great weekend for the team.

Redshirt junior Sam Chelanga punched his ticket to the NCAA Indoor National Championships in Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center March 12, chugging 5,000 meters in 13:44, toasting the field by more than seven seconds.

“I was happy,” Coach Brant Tolsma said of the effort. “All we wanted was an automatic qualifier (for Nationals) and he got it.”
He also got the NCAA’s fastest 5K this season.

Following in Sam’s footsteps were redshirt junior Evans Kigen, who finished seventh in 14:08, and senior Josh Edmonds, who notched a 14:26, the three best times for Big South Conference competitors.

Chelanga did not make the only big splash in Arkansas for Liberty. Running against athletes from schools from all over the nation, redshirt senior Jaime Watson broke her own Liberty and Big South records in the 800-meter, her 2:06.15 good for fourth, just behind three former national champions.

“She’s been looking good, so I was expecting it,” Tolsma said.

Other Liberty runners who looked good in Arkansas were redshirt senior Rebekah Ricksecker, who ran a 4:51.74 mile — just missing her personal best — good for eighth among 43 runners, and sophomore Olivia Charnuski, who lowered her Big South record-low 60-meter hurdle time to 8.7 seconds.

To Tolsma, the Liberty invasion at Arkansas was successful.

“We always enjoy getting lifetime records,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Liberty athletes competing in events from the shot put to the 60-meter dash put on a show that perfectly validated junior hurdler Rachel Houseknecht when she said, “We have a phenomenal team.”

Houseknecht did her part, leapfrogging the competition in the women’s 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.87 seconds.

Another head-turner was junior Jacey Bailey, who rumbled to victory in all three events in which he participated. He zipped through the 60-meter dash in 6.96 seconds and, trying his hand at the 200-meter, beat his closest competitor by almost a full second with a sterling time of 22.37 seconds. Finally, Bailey ran the first leg for the baton-handling crew in the 4-by-400 and, along with freshmen Taylor Courtney and Andre Washington and junior Chris Herbst, captured first place with a 3:26.77, eight seconds ahead of their closest competitors.

The Liberty women had a strong showing on the track as well. Freshman Meghan Burggraf won the 400-meter dash with a strong 59.21, finishing just ahead of teammate Mia Aghaji, a redshirt sophomore, who ran a 1:00.72. Two other female runners found their own ways in their events. Junior Haley Neal turned on the jets in the final meters of the one-mile run to hold off a hard-charging William & Mary opponent for second place, while junior Dacia Bushman took the night’s final event, the 3,000-meter dash, with a 37-second margin of victory.

Then there were the pole-vaulters.

While the guys’ teaming up to run a 4-by-400 for fun was “a great way to get everyone involved and pumped up,” according to Houseknecht, they put up a strong showing in their own event, as well.

Sophomore Cody Fridgen notched a berth in the IC4A Boston meet in March by managing to fling himself 15-feet-9-inches into the air and clear the pole.

Kolby Shepherd, a junior, drew huge applause from spectators and teammates when he flopped to the mat after clearing the pole at a height of 16-feet-9-inches.

“I haven’t jumped that high since I was a freshman,” Shepherd said. “It was a real blessing. It felt really cool to make that.”

The power vault attempt won him his third-straight Quad title.

At both North Campus and Arkansas, the Liberty track and field team had a superb weekend, and will look ahead to the conference championship with relish. The men are looking to capture their 13th-straight championship, while the women look to break a three-year stranglehold by Coastal.

“The big part is to get ready mentally,” Tolsma said of the challenge. “The keys are relax and focus. We just have to go out and do what we’ve been doing all year.”

Contact Daniel Martinez
at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.

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