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Liberty Men's Squad Takes Over Big South Lead
Evans Kigen, Ryan Smith and Geren Woodbridge all captured event titles on a wet Friday at the 2011 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, helping the Liberty men's squad take over the lead in the team standings. Meanwhile, Christina Mitchell and Shelley Parker's Big South titles enabled the Lady Flames to remain in second place at Read Memorial Track.
The Liberty men's team, which sat in fourth place at the end of Thursday's events, now owns a 20-point lead over second-place Coastal Carolina. The Flames have tallied 76.5 points through eight events, as compared with the Chanticleers' 56.5 tallies. On Saturday, Liberty will attempt to wrap up its fifth straight Big South outdoor men's team title and its 16th crown in the meet's 18-year history.
Meanwhile, the Lady Flames pushed their team score to 59.5 points through nine events, just one marker ahead of third-place Gardner-Webb (58.5). Coastal Carolina continues to lead the way, scoring 91 points thus far in the competition.
Men's Meet Recap
Due to some injuries, Kigen had not raced since winning the Big South indoor 3K title on Feb. 24. However, the redshirt senior showed no signs of rust during Friday evening's final track event, the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Kigen came out victorious in a competitive two-man battle with Jacob Smith, winning the race in an IC4A-qualifying time of 8:53.32. Kigen joins Winthrop's Lucas McCurdy (2000-02) as the only three-time Big South men's steeplechase champions in meet history. Kigen's winning time ranks No. 14 nationally at this point in the season.
The fast pace set by the steeplechase leaders also helped pull Liberty freshman Josh MacDonald to a personal-best 9:15.37 clocking and a fourth-place finish. MacDonald now sits in ninth place on Liberty's all-time steeplechase performance list.
Like Kigen, Smith is now a multiple-time Big South champion. The Georgia native had three shot put attempts which would have won the competition, but saved his best (53-7.75) for last. Smith, who captured the conference title by almost two feet, successfully defended his crown from 2010. He has now won all four Big South shot put titles he has ever competed for (2010 indoor and outdoor, 2011 indoor and outdoor).
In similar fashion to the steeplechase, a Liberty freshman complemented the event champion's effort with a fourth-place showing inside the shot put ring. Jacob DeValve's contribution came while navigating a wet shot put circle for an outdoor personal-best throw of 50-8.75.
Liberty's top overall event on Friday was the decathlon, where the Flames summed 18 team points. Leading the way was Geren Woodbridge, who won his first career Big South decathlon championship in dominating fashion. Woodbridge's facility-record score of 6,926 points put him 607 tallies ahead of day one leader Antonio Wood of VMI.
Woodbridge became Liberty's eighth Big South decathlon champion in the 11 years the event has been contested at the conference meet after a stellar Friday. The Keystone State native posted the decathlon's best marks in the 110 hurdles (15.67), discus (126-5), pole vault (14-11) and javelin (173-4).
Teammate Drew Edwards won the decathlon's final event, the 1,500-meter run, in a time of 4:24.89. That enabled him to finish fourth overall for the second straight year, with 6,041 points. Freshman Harrison Allen totaled 5,697 points for sixth place.
Clarence Powell and Anthony Bryant both scored points in the men's high jump. Powell's IC4A-qualifying clearance of 6-8.25 earned third place, while Bryant shared third place after sailing over 6-6.25.
Friday also featured numerous qualifying heats in the running events. Liberty was most successful in the 1,500, where it sent all four of its entrants into Saturday's finals, including Isaac Wendland, who also reached the 800-meter run final.
In the 400-meter dash, a trio of Flames made the final, highlighted by Taylor Courtney. The redshirt sophomore will attempt the rare 400 dash/400 hurdles double Saturday afternoon.
Women's Meet Recap
Mitchell emerged on top of a competitive, back-and-forth battle with Charleston Southern's Patria Norman to win her first Big South heptathlon championship. Norman led with just two events remaining, before Mitchell came back to win both the heptathlon javelin (126-2) and 800-meter run (2:37.03).
Mitchell's meet and facility-record score of 4,831 points left her 133 points clear of Norman in the final standings. Mitchell completed a yearly sweep of the Big South multi-event titles, after winning the Big South indoor pentathlon in February.
Parker, the reigning Big South indoor women's pole vault champion, got to compete for the outdoor title indoors as well on Friday. Due to the cool, rainy conditions, the pole vault was held inside VMI's Cormack Field House.
Parker did not mind the venue adjustment, winning her first Big South outdoor crown in dramatic fashion. The sophomore used third-attempt clearances to get over 11-7.75, 12-1.5 and finally her winning height of 12-7.5.
Parker is Liberty's first Big South outdoor pole vault champion since Aimee Riley in 2005. She is also the second-highest women's pole vaulter in program history, trailing only former NCAA national runner-up Andrea Wildrick on the all-time list.
Liberty also picked up more points during the high jump competition inside Cormack Field House. Mia Aghaji jumped 5-5 to tie for third place, while Mitchell and freshman Kristen Willeford both cleared 5-3 to share seventh place with each other.
One of the day's deepest and most competitive events was the women's steeplechase. Defending champion Hailey Neal clocked a season-best time of 11:01.47 but was relegated to third place. Meanwhile, Denise Troyer and Jessica Gass both climbed up Liberty's all-time top 10 list.
Troyer just missed eighth place, finishing in a personal-best 11:53.22 for ninth. She now sits No. 7 in Liberty history. Meanwhile, Gass' 12:05.14 effort placed 11th on Friday and ranks No. 10 in program annals.
The Lady Flames' final points on Friday came from Gass' freshman classmates Rachel Barnes and Jocelyn Williams in a soggy shot put competition. Barnes came in seventh at 38-7, while Williams took eighth place at 37-8.
Liberty's best performances in the running event preliminaries came in the 1,500-meter run and the 400-meter hurdles, where three Lady Flames apiece made the finals. Mitchell was included amongst Liberty's 400-meter hurdles qualifiers, meaning Saturday's race will be her 12th event of the meet.
The third and final day of the 2011 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships will get underway Saturday at 10 a.m., with the women's discus. Track events will commence at noon, with the start of the women's 4 x 100 relay.