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Liberty to be Well-Represented at NCAA Track & Field Championships
Interestingly, all five of Liberty's national qualifiers are juniors, and the quintet will look to cap off what has already been one of the most memorable seasons in program history. Coach Brant Tolsma's men's and women's squads swept the Big South outdoor team titles at home. For the men, it capped off a Big South "Triple Crown" for the year and the championship was the Lady Flames' first since 2003. The Flames then went on to win their second-ever IC4A outdoor crown and finish a program-best eighth at the NCAA East Regional Championships.
What does the national meet have in store for the Liberty men's and women's track & field teams? An athlete-by-athlete preview follows.
Carol Jefferson (Jr., Schwenksville, Pa.) – Women's 10,000 Meters
National Schedule: Final – Thursday, 11:40 p.m. Eastern
How She Got Here: Jefferson, who entered the season with a 10,000-meter personal best of 36:17.61, blazed to a 34:37.27 clocking on her way to second place at the Penn Relays, April 26. The effort set a new Liberty and Big South Conference record and made her the No. 37 10K performer in the nation at season's end. Left off the initial national qualifying list, Jefferson was a late invite to Sacramento after another athlete scratched from the competition.
Jogging with Jefferson: Jefferson is the first true female distance runner in school history to reach the national meet. Liberty assistant coach Heather Zealand won a national title in the mile indoors and placed second in the 1,500 meters outdoors in 2002, but those events are often classified as middle-distance disciplines. For the second consecutive season, Jefferson won the Big South indoor 5,000-meter title and swept the 5,000 and 10,000-meter events outdoors. She is now a six-time individual conference champion. The junior has also significantly improved her 5,000-meter times this spring. Most recently, she clocked a 16:50.86 at the NCAA East Regional Championships, becoming the second Lady Flame ever to run under 17 minutes.
10K Preview: Texas Tech sophomore Sally Kipyego is an overwhelming favorite to win the 10,000-meter national title. She has already won the NCAA national cross country meet this season and was victorious at 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters at the national indoor meet. Kipyego, planning to run both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in Sacramento, is aiming to become the first female runner ever to claim all five national distance titles in the same year. She set a collegiate record with a 31:56.72 clocking at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Stanford, on April 29. Her top competition, Arizona State senior Amy Hastings, is nearly 35 seconds back.
Tolsma's Take: "I'm really excited for Carol. She has worked extremely hard while at Liberty and, for her to get rewarded like this is awesome. Carol has really stepped up the level of distance running at Liberty, and others are starting to follow her lead. Thus, it's only appropriate that she's our first female distance runner to qualify for the national meet."
Jon Hart (Jr., Wyomissing, Pa.) – Men's Hammer
National Schedule: Qualifying – Wednesday, 4:45 p.m. Eastern; Final – Friday, 4:15 p.m. Eastern
How He Got Here: Hart finished as the runner-up to North Carolina's Nick Owens at the East Regional Championships, last Friday in Gainesville, Fla., earning automatic qualification to the national meet. The junior's top heave of 219-2, which came on his sixth and final throw, eclipsed his own school record by more than six feet.
Hart Happenings: Although Hart qualified for the national meet with a personal-best throw, he posted consistently positive results throughout the season. He was named the Big South Most Outstanding Field Performer after setting meet records in both the hammer and the shot put at the conference championships. Hart later became the first Liberty thrower ever to win an IC4A event title, doing so in the hammer throw on May 12. In addition to his hammer-throwing exploits, Hart broke a 24-year-old school record by throwing the shot put 57-7.5 at the Shamrock Invitational on March 17.
Hammer Preview: Hart enters the competition ranked No. 11 out of 26 throwers on the performance list. Trackwire projects him to finish sixth at the national meet, and Track & Field News tabs Hart eighth. Auburn's Cory Martin, Kansas' Egor Agafonov and Owens are the meet's three favorites. Martin, who owns the nation's top throw this season, 234-4, is Trackwire's projected winner. Meanwhile, Track & Field News favors Owens, who placed third at last year's national championships. Agafonov won the weight throw national crown at the 2007 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Tolsma's Take: "Jon will hope to be one of the 12 throwers who advances from the qualifying round to the finals. If he does that, the chances are really good that he'll come back as an All-American. I think he has a decent shot at it, as he's healthy and throwing his best right now."
Clendon Henderson (Jr., Meadow, Texas) – Men's Discus
National Schedule: Qualifying – Wednesday, 10 p.m. Eastern; Final – Friday, 8:15 p.m. Eastern
How He Got Here: Henderson came in third at the East Regional Championships, last Friday in Gainesville, Fla., capturing one of the region's five automatic berths to the national meet. He threw a Liberty and Big South record 190-8 in the process, boosting his personal best by nearly four feet.
Henderson's Highlights: Henderson is in his first season of competition as a Liberty Flame after spending his first two years at South Plains Junior College in his home state and redshirting the 2006 season. He won the conference discus title by nearly 15 feet, in meet-record fashion. Henderson was also the IC4A discus runner-up, came in third at the Texas Relays and was fourth at the Penn Relays. Henderson improved his discus personal best by nine feet this season. A versatile thrower, the junior also hit regional qualifying marks in the shot put and hammer throw as well. He and Hart are the first two Liberty throwers ever to qualify for the national meet.
Discus Preview: Henderson stands No. 17 out of 26 throwers on this year's performance list, which is dominated by West Regional performers. The top four discus throwers, and eight of the top 11, came out of the West. BYU senior Niklas Arrhenius, who won the West Regional meet last weekend, is Trackwire's national champion pick. The Track & Field News pundits favor Stanford senior Michael Robertson. Arizona's Adam Kuehl, last year's national runner-up, and UCLA's Greg Garza, who owns the season's best collegiate mark of 208-11, should also be in the mix.
Tolsma's Take: "Clendon has had a very good year, but things would have to go really well for him to score points for us. However, he is marrying my daughter the following weekend and is throwing his best right now, so maybe he can make it two great weekends in a row."
Brandon Hoskins (Jr., Garden City, Texas) – Decathlon
National Schedule: Day one action begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. Eastern, and day two action begins Thursday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
How He Got Here: Hoskins scored a season-best 7,463 points to nab the second IC4A decathlon title of his career (also 2005) and Liberty's ninth IC4A decathlon crown in the last 16 seasons. The score placed him No. 5 on the final performance list and earned him a plane ticket to California for the third straight year.
A Healthy Hoskins: Hoskins earned All-America distinction with his ninth-place heptathlon finish at the 2005 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships as a freshman. Since then, he has been nagged by injuries throughout his time at Liberty. He qualified for the decathlon at the national meet as both a freshman and sophomore, but was unable to complete the 10 events both times. Now healthy, Hoskins is returning to the form which saw him post 7,529 points early in the 2006 outdoor season. He ran the 400 meters in 47.74 seconds at the IC4A Championships on May 11, closing a strong first day and marking the fastest 400-meter decathlon effort ever by a Liberty athlete.
Decathlon Preview: Again, the projections of Trackwire and Track & Field News differ. The former lists Hoskins as its pick for sixth place, while the latter sees Hoskins finishing ninth. Ryan Werner's fourth-place finish in the decathlon at the 1995 national championships currently ranks as the best in program history. Arizona senior Jake Arnold is looking to defend his 2006 title and is the top entrant, at 7,946 points. Thus, Track & Field News favors him. Trackwire's selection is Northern Iowa junior Raven Cepeda, listed second with 7,838 markers.
Tolsma's Take: "Brandon should be ready to post his best score ever, if he stays healthy. He certainly possesses the potential to be on the awards stand."
Josh McDougal (Jr., Peru, N.Y.) – Men's 5,000 Meters, 10,000 Meters
National Schedule: 5,000-Meter Semifinals – Wednesday, 11:50 p.m. Eastern; 10,000-Meter Final – Thursday, 11 p.m. Eastern; 5,000-Meter Final – Friday, 10:45 p.m. Eastern
How He Got Here: McDougal finished as the runner-up in the 5,000-meter final at the NCAA East Regional Championships for the second straight year, putting him into the 5,000-meter race at the national meet for the third time. McDougal's regional time of 13:52.70 was edged by Villanova's Bobby Curtis. The junior came in under the 10,000-meter national automatic qualifying standard when he ran a Liberty and school-record time of 28:27.65 on April 29 in Stanford. McDougal is the only male athlete in the meet attempting the 5,000/10,000 double, which will see him run 20,000 meters (nearly 12.5 miles) of races in fewer than 48 hours.
Marvelous McDougal: Even though he is a nine-time All-American, only one of those distinctions has been earned by McDougal in outdoor track. (He placed ninth in the 5,000-meter final in 2006.) He started the current outdoor season off with a bang, joining the prestigious sub-4:00-mile club with a 3:57.46 effort on his home track, March 31. Two weeks later, McDougal became the fifth-fastest collegiate performer ever at 5,000 meters, blistering a 13:20.43 at the Mt. SAC Relays. He won a trio of events at the Big South Championships and then did the same at the IC4A Championships. McDougal's effort at the IC4A meet, which included a 5,000-meter race and a 10,000-meter race within a half hour of one another, made him the first performer in the meet's 131-year history to complete the distance triple. During the 2007 indoor season, McDougal finished third at 3,000 meters at the national meet and was eighth in the 5,000-meter final. The third-place showing is his best ever at a college national championship event.
5K Preview: McDougal enters the meet with the fastest qualifying time by 10 seconds, but is picked to finish third by Trackwire and fifth by Track & Field News. The 5,000-meter final will be his third race in three nights. The publications agreed upon Wisconsin senior Chris Solinsky as the pre-race favorite. Solinsky, who owns a season best of 13:30.54, won the event title a year ago and also claimed the 5,000-meter crown indoors in 2007. Other athletes to keep an eye on are Curtis, who displayed excellent closing speed last weekend at the regional meet and has clocked a 13:43.46. Colorado junior Brent Vaughn is listed second behind McDougal, as he recorded a 13:30.12 at Stanford on April 29.
10K Preview: McDougal is eighth on the pre-meet performance list, but is again expected to finish third by Trackwire and fifth by Track & Field News. He will be making his national meet debut at the 10,000-meter distance. Oregon junior Galen Rupp ran a collegiate-record time of 27:33.48 at Stanford on April 29, establishing himself as the favorite to win his first national title. BYU senior Josh Rohatinsky, who crossed the line in 27:55.86 at the same race in Stanford and won this season's national cross country championship, should also challenge.
Tolsma's Take: "Josh has had a great season and is running well. He's attempting a very difficult double, though, and it will be a great challenge. However, Josh loves a challenge and he's excited for this opportunity."
Men's Team Outlook
Trackwire projects the Liberty men's team to score 18 points and tie Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin for 15th place in the final standings. Such a finish would be the best in both Liberty and Big South Conference men's track history. UMBC, then a member of the Big South, tied for 18th at the 1996 national indoor meet. The Flames' best finish, a tie for 23rd, came at the 2006 indoor championships. The Liberty women's squad owns the top two team finishes ever by a Big South track & field unit, coming in 15th at the 2002 indoor meet and sharing 15th place the same year outdoors.
"We're very hopeful that we can achieve our highest finish ever at the national meet," noted Tolsma. "Also, since all of our national performers return, we're starting to feel like we could be a real force at next year's national meet."
Defending national champion Florida State, led by record-breaking sprinter Walter Dix, is the consensus pick to repeat on the men's side. Meanwhile, the reigning women's indoor team champion, Arizona State, appears poised to claim the top prize outdoors as well.
Fans can follow the action at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships via LIVE television coverage on both Friday and Saturday. CSTV will broadcast Friday's action, from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Eastern. On Saturday, CBS is slated to cover the final two hours of competition at the meet, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern.
Live results will be available here throughout the meet.