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Bendik, Shepherd Move On to Des Moines

May 26, 2012
|  Jacksonville, Fla.
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Melinda Bendik qualified for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the women's hammer on Saturday, throwing a school-record 202-7 in the process.

Day 3 Blog

Liberty's redshirt senior duo of Melinda Bendik (women's hammer) and Kolby Shepherd (men's pole vault) both punched their tickets to the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships with their impressive performances on Saturday. Their efforts highlighted the final day of action at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet at UNF's Hodges Stadium.

In addition to qualifying for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa for the first time, Bendik also broke her own school women's hammer record in the process. Her fifth throw sailed all the way out to 202-7, earning fourth place in Saturday's competition and eclipsing her previous mark of 201-3 from the ECAC Championship two weeks ago.

Bendik got off to a successful start on a sun-drenched, breezy Saturday afternoon with an opening attempt of 190-9. As it turns out, that would have been enough to remain in the top 12 and qualify for Des Moines.

However, by the time the Odessa, Texas native stepped up for her record-breaking fifth throw, she had dropped to 10th place in the standings. Then, Bendik's 202-7 heave removed all doubt and made her Liberty's first women's thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Shepherd will pole vault in Des Moines for the second straight year, thanks to a second-attempt clearance at a season-best 17-3.5. That effort tied the Georgia native for 10th place, due to the fact that he had not missed on any vaults before that height.

Shepherd and his coaches made a bit of a gutsy decision to start out the competition. He had been limited by injuries this season and had not cleared a height over 16-10 during the 2012 outdoor campaign. Yet, the decision was made to have him pass through the first two heights (15-11.75 and 16-5.5). As a result, Shepherd's opening vault of the day was a big first-attempt clearance at a season-best height of 16-11.5.

Shepherd then got over 17-3.5 on his second attempt, marking his highest clearance since equaling the outdoor school record of 17-6.5 at the Texas Relays on April 9, 2011. Shepherd was unsuccessful on all three tries at 17-5.5 on Saturday, but had already accomplished enough to return to Des Moines.

Ryan Smith just missed out on making the men's shot put finals, late Saturday afternoon. His second throw reached 58-10.75, equaling the mark of Penn State's Logan Caldwell for the 16th spot. However, Caldwell's second-longest throw was superior to Smith's, and the Liberty redshirt junior was relegated to 17th place overall and thus denied a chance at three more attempts.

Freshman Kyle Wheeler got off to a flying start during his first trip to the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in the men's high jump competition. He breezed through the first three heights (6-7.5, 6-9.5 and 6-11.5) without a miss, before coming up short at 7-1. If he would have gotten over 7-1, Wheeler would have equaled his personal best and the Liberty outdoor school record.

As it was, Wheeler's 6-11.5 clearance earned a tie for 19th place with Indiana State's Major Clay in the field of 48 men's high jumpers.

Liberty's final athlete to compete on Saturday was redshirt senior Mia Aghaji in the women's triple jump. Struggling to find the toe board with a strong tailwind at her back, Aghaji managed only one legal attempt on the day. It ended up at 38-11.5 and placed her 43rd. Aghaji wraps up her Liberty career as a six-time Big South event champion and the program record holder in the outdoor women's triple jump (42-1.25).

Bendik will be the first Liberty athlete to compete at the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, throwing the hammer June 7 at 4 p.m. Eastern. Shepherd will then pole vault at 5:30 p.m. Eastern on June 8. The entire meet will be contested at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.