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2011-12 Track & Field Outlook: Part 1

November 16, 2011
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Pole vaulter Kolby Shepherd returns for his redshirt senior season after qualifying for the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Just over two weeks away from the season-opening Liberty Kickoff (Dec. 2-3), LibertyFlames.com will preview the 2011-12 indoor and outdoor track & field seasons. Today's article provides a general overview of the upcoming year, while future editions will break down the Flames' roster, event by event.

The 2011-12 Liberty men's and women's track & field teams enter the year in very different circumstances but with a similar set of goals. Both the rebuilding Flames and the veteran Lady Flames have high aspirations at the Big South, ECAC/IC4A and NCAA levels this coming year.

"Our men's team lost some great talent to graduation," noted head coach Brant Tolsma, in reference to top-level athletes like Sam Chelanga, Elliot Galeone and Evans Kigen, among others. "As a result, we've had to do a lot of rebuilding. However, I still feel like we have at least one or two conference-competitive athletes in every event on the men's side.

"Meanwhile, several strong seniors like Mia Aghaji, Melinda Bendik, Olivia Charnuski, Jennifer Klugh and Alyssa Pegues are back to lead the women's team this year," Tolsma added. "We also have a number of young athletes who have the potential to really develop.

"As a program, we hope to stay atop the Big South Conference, show improvement at the ECAC/IC4A meet and have good representation at the NCAA national level," stated Tolsma.

The Liberty men's and women's track & field teams have fared very well at the Big South Indoor and Outdoor Championships the last two years, winning seven of a possible eight team titles.

Liberty's 2011-12 roster includes 11 past Big South individual champions, including Taylor Courtney, Cody Fridgen, Ryan Smith and Kolby Shepherd of the men's squad and Meghan Burggraf, Christina Mitchell, Shelley Parker, Aghaji, Charnuski, Klugh and Pegues of the Lady Flames.

Looking to the ECAC/IC4A level, Liberty posted a strong team finish at the 2011 IC4A Indoor Track & Field Championships, tying for second place overall. Courtney contributed to that effort by winning the 500-meter run, and he is the Flames' only returning IC4A champion. Meanwhile, Mitchell won the ECAC heptathlon crown at the 2011 ECAC Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships and is back to defend her title.

Shepherd is the only current Liberty Flame who has competed at the NCAA national meet during his career. The redshirt senior pole vaulted at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where he tied for 20th place.

The indoor season will begin with the first of three home meets at the Tolsma Indoor Track Center, the Liberty Kickoff on Dec. 2-3. Liberty will also play host to the Liberty Open (Jan. 27-28) and Liberty Quad (Feb. 10).

The Flames will compete in three straight weekends of championship meets indoors, beginning with the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships in Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 24-25. Next up will be the IC4A and ECAC Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships in Boston, Mass. (March 3-4). The 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships are set for Nampa, Idaho (March 9-10).

While some Liberty athletes are competing at the NCAA indoor championship, others will begin the outdoor season at the March 9-10 Coastal Carolina Invitational.

The Flames will host their customary two outdoor meets at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex at Osborne Stadium, including the Liberty Collegiate Invitational (April 6-7) and the Liberty Twilight Qualifier (May 3).

Liberty's top conference rival, Coastal Carolina, will host the Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, April 19-21 in Conway, S.C. The IC4A and ECAC Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships will return to Princeton, N.J. once again, May 11-13.

The NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet will be hosted by North Florida in Jacksonville, Fla. for the first time, May 24-26. The meet will determine the qualifiers for the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, to be contested in Des Moines, Iowa for the second year in a row, June 6-9.

"There has been a great attitude on our team so far this year," Tolsma observed. "That's exciting for a coach, because it usually translates into more positive things happening."

Watch for a preview of the horizontal and vertical jumping events later this week on LibertyFlames.com.