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Liberty Twilight Qualifier Set for Thursday
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Despite being delayed a day by severe weather in the Lynchburg area, Thursday's Liberty Twilight Qualifier promises some impressive performances to close out the Flames' 2014 home schedule. Competitors from 23 different colleges and a number of talented post-collegiate athletes will descend upon the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex for the one-day meet.
Things will get started at 1:15 p.m. with the men's shot put and women's javelin. Running events will commence at 3 p.m., when the gun goes off for the men's 100-meter dash trials. Liberty's 16 seniors will be recognized on the main straightaway at 5:15, during the break between the 200-meter dash and steeplechase events.
A number of events will have a strong Big South flavor, as Campbell, High Point, UNC Asheville and VMI are all slated to compete on Thursday. Other teams who have entered athletes include Elon, N.C. State and NCAA Division II powerhouse St. Augustine's.
Headlining the list of post-collegiate entrants are 400 hurdlers Bershawn "Batman" Jackson and Jernail Hayes and sprinters Michael Bingham, Barbara Pierre and Andrew Steele.
How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live results will be available throughout the meet. Additionally, periodic updates will be available on Twitter, via the Liberty Gameday (@LUGameday) account.
Thursday's weather forecast is a welcome change from the rain which has pelted Lynchburg during the early part of the week. The high temperature is expected to reach the mid 70s under partly cloudy skies.
Saluting the Seniors
At 5:15 p.m., Liberty's 16 seniors will be recognized on the track during the team's second annual Senior Night celebration. The Flames' senior class, which has combined to win 14 Big South individual event titles, consists of Rachel Barnes, Meghan Burggraf, Jessica Gass, Katie Russo, Kristen Willeford, Harrison Allen, Zach Barker, Jarred Cornfield, Jacob DeValve, Caleb Edmonds, Nate Jones, Josh MacDonald, ConRoy Smith, Tyler Weigandt, Richard Whitted and Tarell Williams.
The Liberty Twilight Qualifier has featured numerous memorable moments and impressive performances since it was first contested in 1997. In recent years, three events in particular stand out.
The 2010 men's 800-meter run featured three of that year's NCAA national qualifiers in the event, including the Virginia duo of Robby Andrews and Lance Roller and VMI's Felix Kitur. Andrews held off Kitur to win by five-hundredths of a second, in a facility-record time of 1:47.73.
Last year, Nike's Barbara Pierre found the newly-renovated track surface to her liking, winning the women's 100 dash title in 10.99 seconds. It was the fastest time in the world at that point of 2013 and shattered the facility record.
Later in the evening, nine men ran times of 3:49.00 or faster in the 1,500, headlined by a facility-record 3:46.09 by Wake Forest's Kyle Graves. Five of those athletes went on to run the 1,500 at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet.
Qualifying at the Qualifier
The Liberty Twilight Qualifier will serve as athletes' final opportunity to punch their tickets to the 2014 IC4A and ECAC Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, slated for May 16-18 in Princeton, N.J.
Liberty senior Tarell Williams will already be heading to Princeton to run the 4 x 100 relay, but will attempt to qualify in two individual events as well. He has run the 100 dash in 10.88 seconds this season, just off of the IC4A standard of 10.85. Williams has also long jumped 22-11, with the standard set at 23-3.5.
Teammates John Sherret (1:51.80 in the 800), Kyle Wheeler (6-8.25 in the high jump) and Constand Van Rooyen (51-10 in the shot put) will also be attempting to extend their seasons. If Van Rooyen makes it to Princeton in the shot put, he will join Jacob DeValve, Tim Abbott and David Scouten in the event.
On the women's side, Melissa Rohwer owns a season-best long jump of 18-8.5 and will be chasing the ECAC mark of 19-0.5. Senior Kristen Willeford is coming off of a career-best 5-6 high jump effort at the Highlander Invitational, and will now shoot for an ECAC-qualifying 5-7 clearance on Thursday.
Qualifying at the Qualifier, Part Two
A number of Liberty athletes are currently "on the bubble" with regards to qualifying for the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet, which will be contested May 29-31 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Some of the Flames and Lady Flames who will likely need to improve slightly upon their top marks of the season to advance to Jacksonville include Jacob DeValve in the men's shot put, the men's javelin duo of Steve Feister and Daniel Klase, Ansley Gebben in the women's 400 hurdles and Janae Jones in the women's triple jump.
Top Events to Watch (Organized Chronologically)
1:15 p.m. – Men's Shot Put
The meet will begin with arguably Liberty's deepest event this season, the men's shot put. The Flames finished 1-2-3 in the Big South indoor final and went 1-2 at the Big South outdoor championship in this event. Even though 2014 Big South indoor champion Fred Fulton is redshirting the outdoor season, three Flames (Jacob DeValve, Tim Abbott and David Scouten) have qualified for the IC4A meet. Teammate Constand Van Rooyen is just 3.75 inches away from joining them in Princeton. The top threat to break up Liberty's dominance of this event on Thursday is VMI's Joel Hoisington. The third-place finisher in the Big South outdoor men's shot put competition threw 51-0.25 at the Highlander Invitational last weekend.
3:50 p.m. – Women's 100 Final
Last year, Nike's Barbara Pierre stole the show with a world-leading winning time of 10.99 seconds in the women's 100 dash final. She is back to chase her fourth Liberty Twilight Qualifier 100 dash title in the last five editions of the meet. Other runners to watch include Dianda Gilbert (the 2013 runner-up in 11.40 seconds), Big South champion Anna Scott of Campbell and Big South runner-up Abigail Flower of Liberty.
4:30 p.m. – Men's 200
A year ago, two men ran under 21 seconds in a windy men's 200 dash, led by Ramon Gittens' winning time of 20.87. That number could be larger this year, looking at the incredible depth on the performance list. Liberty senior ConRoy Smith finished second in the Big South 200 final in 21.37 seconds, but is seeded only 18th in this field.
The top seed, at 20.57 seconds, is the NCAA Division II defending national champion in this event, Jermaine Jones of St. Augustine's. Sean McLean, who has run 20.62 and placed fourth in the 60-meter dash at the 2014 USATF indoor championship, is entered. The University of Ottawa's Segun Makinde, who was part of Canada's 4 x 100 relay pool for the London Olympics, is part of the field. Great Britain Olympians Michael Bingham and Andrew Steele, who specialize at the 400-meter distance, will both drop down and race the 200 on Thursday.
6 p.m. – Men's High Jump
No one has ever high jumped over seven feet at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex, but that fact could change on Thursday. Hoova Taylor (7-3.25 personal best), Campbell assistant coach Ryan Grinnell (7-1.75 personal best) and Eddie Shelton of St. Augustine's (7-0.5 personal best) are all on the start list. Knocking on the door of the 7-foot club are Myles Lazarou of Northern Guilford High School (6-11.75) and Liberty freshman Zach Davis (6-11), who recently placed second in the Big South men's high jump final. Liberty junior Kyle Wheeler has jumped 7-1 during his career, but 6-7.5 is his best clearance thus far during an injury-plagued 2014.
6:05 p.m. – Men's 1,500
The men's 1,500 looks to be a deep, competitive event for the second consecutive season, as it is a veritable "who's who" of Big South Conference distance running. Appearing on the start list are the reigning Big South cross country champion (High Point's Patrick Crawford), 1,500 champion (Liberty's Caleb Edmonds), steeplechase champion (Liberty's Josh MacDonald), 5K champion (High Point's Jacob Smith) and 10K champion (Campbell's Amon Terer). Other Big South runners to watch include VMI's Avery Martin, who won this event at the Liberty Collegiate Invitational, and Campbell's Chris Schulist, who owns a 3:45.92 personal best at 1,500 meters.
6:15 p.m. – Women's Discus
The women's discus field will feature the last three Big South champions, in Liberty redshirt Mychelle Cumings (2012 and 2013) and Lady Flame Jennifer Nicholson (2014). They will be joined by Nicole Chavis of N.C. State, who placed fifth in the ACC this year, and Southern Conference champion Breanna Warren of Elon.
6:25 p.m. – Men's 400
Andrew Steele, a British Olympian who owns a personal-best time of 44.94 seconds, headlines the stellar men's 400 dash field. Josh Scott has run 45.01 during his career and owns the track record of 45.99. Roxroy Cato of St. Augustine's is currently ranked second in the world in the 400 hurdles this year at 48.67 seconds. Tom Sippie of Lynchburg College was the NCAA Division III indoor national champion at 400 meters earlier this year. Liberty will be represented by senior Tyler Weigandt, who has dropped his time from 50.25 to 49.25 this season.
6:55 p.m. – Women's 800
On Senior Night, Liberty redshirt senior Meghan Burggraf will race the 800 meters one final time on her home track. The five-time Big South 800-meter champion could give chase to the long-standing facility record of 2:07.95. She will also be joined in the event by up-and-coming Lady Flames middle-distance runners Christieanna Apon, Alexis Taylor and Hannah Scherlacher.
7:10 p.m. – Men's 400 Hurdles
Perhaps the most recognizable athlete at this year's meet, Bershawn "Batman" Jackson, is entered in his specialty event, the men's 400 hurdles. Jackson set the facility record of 49.04 seconds as an 18-year old at St. Augustine's in 2002. Since then, he has captured the 2005 world championship, the 2008 Olympics bronze medal and four USA national titles in the 400 hurdles, while lowering his personal best to 47.30 seconds.
Other entrants include Daniel Ross (Virginia State alum who ran 50.78 and placed third at the 2013 NCAA Division II national meet), Liberty's Ryan Davis (Big South champion), Wingate's Tyler Lee (South Atlantic Conference champion) and Lynchburg College's Rachad Davis (ODAC champion).
7:20 p.m. – Women's 400 Hurdles
Liberty's Ansley Gebben has lowered the program record in the women's 400 hurdles to 1:00.32 this season, but will have plenty of competition on Thursday evening. Jernail Hayes, back to defend her Liberty Twilight Qualifier 400 hurdles title from 2013, went on to clock a time of 55.89 seconds last summer. Yanique Haye-Smith has already run 57.71 seconds this season. Elon freshman Jennifer Esposito recently won the Southern Conference title at 59.60 seconds, while Winston-Salem State's Cruz Vargas-Sullivan owns a personal best of 1:00.77.