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Liberty Men's Track Team Leads After Day One of NCAA East Regional Championships; Hart, Henderson, McDougal Qualify for Nationals
The Liberty men's squad tallied 22 points during Friday's five event finals, six more points than second-place Clemson and 9.5 more than third-place Virginia Tech. The Flames had never scored more than eight markers in the four previous editions of the NCAA East Regional Championships.
Hart (Wyomissing, Pa.), competing in the day's first event, the men's hammer throw, saved his best throw for last. Sitting in eighth place after his three preliminary throws, the junior uncorked a personal-best and school-record heave of 219-2 on his sixth and final throw to jump all the way up to the second position and into the national meet for the first time.
His previous best of 212-10 had won the IC4A Championship on May 13. Hart became the second Liberty athlete ever to garner a runner-up finish at a regional competition. Josh McDougal (Peru, N.Y.) was the first Flame to do so, placing second in the men's 5,000-meter final a season ago. Only North Carolina senior All-American Nick Owens bested Hart in the event, recording a top throw of 223-10. Hart now ranks 12th nationally in the hammer.
Henderson (Meadow, Texas) continued the fireworks inside the throwing circle, improving his own school and Big South records with a 190-8 effort in the men's discus, on his way to a third-place finish. The junior, who entered the meet with a top throw of 186-10, threw a pair of attempts beyond that mark on Friday. His best heave was his fourth of the competition, and left him behind only Florida's Wes Stockbarger and Virginia's Yemi Ayeni in the final standings. Stockbarger's 201-5 mark broke the regional record.
Henderson will be making his initial trip to the national meet in Sacramento. He and Hart will be the Flames' first two throwers ever to participate in the NCAA National Championships.
Josh McDougal came in second during the final men's running event of the evening, the men's 5,000 meters, clocking a 13:52.70. The junior repeated his runner-up finish from 2006 and qualified for the national meet in the event for the third straight season.
McDougal and Fairleigh Dickinson's Samuel Chelanga set the pace for a good portion of the race, before Villanova junior Bobby Curtis broke into the lead with 500 meters remaining. Curtis held off McDougal's final-lap charge to win in 13:52.05. After running a number of 68-second laps to open the race, McDougal ran the final 800 meters in 2:02.7 and the last lap in 59.4 seconds.
McDougal has now qualified for the national championships in a pair of events, as he owns an automatic qualifier in the 10,000 meters with his 28:27.65 at Stanford's Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational.
Liberty's final male competitor on the meet's opening day, Tim O'Donnell (Jr., Hurst, Texas), ran his specialty, the 400-meter hurdles. His official time of 53.60 placed fourth in the heat and 27th overall.
Arlene Zelinskas (Sr., Dayton, Ohio), who competed in three events on Friday, started out with the women's high jump. She cleared the opening height, 5-7.25, on her second attempt, but was unable to jump 5-9.25, which would have been a new personal best. The Buckeye State native shared 14th place with Norfolk State's Imani Moorman and Miami's Viktoria Andonova in a field of 27 competitors.
Zelinskas later anchored the Lady Flames' 4 x 100 relay team to a time of 46.69 in the preliminary round. The quartet, which also included Andrea Beckles (So., Lynchburg, Va.), Charlene Hibbert (Jr., Mississauga, Ontario) and Tra' Screen (So., Lynchburg, Va.), placed fifth in its heat and 14th overall.
Zelinskas wrapped up her busy day with a 13.83 clocking in the 100-meter hurdle prelims. The time was good for fifth place in her heat and ranked 15th out of 34 runners overall in the five heats.
The trio of events may have concluded the distinguished career of Zelinskas, who was named the Big South Conference's NCAA Woman of the Year representative on Thursday. Liberty's only senior competing at the regional meet, Zelinskas has provisionally qualified for the national meet in the heptathlon and will wait to see if she is included in the field of competitors.
Rebekah Ricksecker (So., Laurel, Del.) ran a personal-best time of 4:33.22 in the women's 1,500-meter trials, despite a tactical race, which included an 81-second opening lap. She crossed the line eighth in her heat and 26th overall.
Also running a personal best in the women's distance events was junior Carol Jefferson (Schwenksville, Pa.), who clocked a 16:50.86 to place 19th in the night's last event, the women's 5,000-meter final. Her previous best was 17:03.23, set indoors. Jefferson's fastest outdoor effort, prior to Friday evening, was 17:20.06.
Jefferson ranks second on the Liberty all-time list in the 5K, trailing only Ashley Osborne (So., Bristol, Va.), who also competed in the 5,000 meters on Friday. Osborne's final time of 17:38.63 was good for 32nd place in a sizable field.
Day two action at the NCAA East Regional Track & Field Championships will begin at noon Saturday, with the women's hammer. Matt Parker (So., Rome, N.Y.) will be the first Liberty athlete to compete on the meet's final day, as the men's high jump is scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.