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Liberty Track Adds 12 for 2012-13 Season
As Liberty redshirt seniors Melinda Bendik and Kolby Shepherd prepare for next week's NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, the Flames and Lady Flames continue to build for the future. Liberty Head Track & Field Coach Brant Tolsma announced on Thursday that 12 student-athletes have signed to attend Liberty University for the 2012-13 academic year.
By the numbers, the signees include nine future Lady Flames and three future Flames. The group also includes five pole vaulters, three Lynchburg area natives and three younger siblings of past or current Liberty track & field student-athletes.
The dozen signees will join the previously announced group of Jeremie Bourget, Will Templeton, Brittany Crittenden, Mary Echols, Chandler Fraley and Asten Lopez as members of Liberty track & field's incoming freshman class.
(Read 2012-13 Signee Release No. 1) (Read 2012-13 Signee Release No. 2)
"'New' is an exciting word, and we are thrilled to begin a new year with a brand new track and a solid group of promising new athletes joining our returners," Tolsma remarked. "I believe these athletes not only bring talent and potential to our future team, but they also bring a high level of character.
"Many of these athletes have chosen Liberty even though it wasn't their best financial option, and that demonstrates a sincere desire to be in the unique spiritual environment provided at Liberty," Tolsma continued. "This makes me even more excited for their future development. The future of Liberty track & field is looking bright."
Profiles of the new signees follow, listed in alphabetical order by gender.
Yana Babbitt (Preston, Conn.) – Babbitt helped Norwich Free Academy win the Connecticut Class LL state girls' team title on Wednesday, placing fifth in the discus and sixth in the javelin. Babbitt, who previously finished third in the Class LL javelin competition in 2011, reached a personal-best distance of 122-7 earlier this season.
Watch a video where Babbitt talks about signing with Liberty
Lauren Cook (Fletcher, N.C.) – Cook was a strong relay runner during her high school career at T.C. Roberson High School. Most recently, she clocked a 2:21 split to help her 4 x 800 relay team post a time of 9:23.75 and place fifth at the 2012 North Carolina 4A state meet. Last year, Cook helped T.C. Roberson finish second at the state meet with a 3:57.45 clocking in the 4 x 400 relay.
Kellie Glynn (Lynchburg, Va.) – Glynn captured three VISAA state pole vault championships at Liberty Christian Academy, including a sweep of the 2012 indoor and outdoor titles. Glynn, who owns a personal best of 10-6, also won the 2012 VISAA outdoor state pole vault crown.
Jessica Harrison (Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.) – Coached by Liberty alumnus Willie Parker at South Walton High School, Harrison will join high school teammate Crittenden as part of the Lady Flames' incoming freshman class. Harrison, who has high jumped 5-4, placed seventh in the event at this year's Florida 2A state meet. She boasts a heptathlon personal best of 4,147 points and took seventh place at the 2011 AAU Club Nationals. Harrison made an impression on the Liberty coaching staff at the 2011 Liberty Kickoff, where she scored 3,277 points in the pentathlon to defeat a dozen collegiate opponents and win the event.
Read an article about Harrison signing with Liberty
Erika Jackson (Lynchburg, Va.) – Jackson, a senior at Lynchburg's E.C. Glass High School, will be one of the busiest athletes at this weekend's Virginia Group AA state meet in Harrisonburg. She is entered in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 4 x 100 relay, pole vault and triple jump. Jackson owns school records in the pole vault (10-6) and 300 hurdles (45.02) and has also clocked 14.88 seconds in the 100 hurdles. At the 2012 Group AA indoor state championship, Jackson was a part of E.C. Glass' winning 4 x 200 relay quartet and finished second in the 55 hurdles.
Watch WSET's news report about Jackson signing with Liberty
Janae Jones (Matoaca, Va.) – A Clover Hill High School senior, Jones recorded personal-best distances in both the long jump (18-1.5) and triple jump (39-8) to qualify for this weekend's Virginia Group AAA state meet in Richmond. She had a successful 2012 indoor season, winning the triple jump by two and a half feet at the Flames High School Invitational before going on to claim fourth place in the event at the Group AAA indoor state meet.
Read a feature article on Jones
Kelli Ley (Elida, Ohio) – Ley is also preparing for a state championship meet this weekend, as she will run on Spencerville High School's 4 x 400 relay team at the Ohio Division III meet. Her team won the regional title last weekend, with a meet-record time of 3:57.23. A year ago, Ley placed second at the Division III state meet in the 400 and seventh in the 200. Her top times include 25.79 in the 200, 57.31 in the 400 and 2:19.32 in the 800.
Watch a local TV report about Ley signing with Liberty
Grayson Mack (Boca Raton, Fla.) – Mack made large strides in the pole vault as a senior at Highlands Christian Academy, boosting her personal best from 9-0 all the way up to 11-0. She capped off her season by tying for sixth place at the Florida 1A state meet.
Courtney Russo (Fort Myers, Fla.) – Russo will join older sister Katie Russo on Liberty's women's cross country and track & field teams, after wrapping up her high school career at Fort Myers High School. The younger Russo clocked a 5K time of 18:57.12 to place 13th at the 2010 Florida Class 3A state cross country meet, helping Fort Myers notch a third-place team finish. On the track in 2010, Russo teamed up with her sister on Fort Myers' state runner-up 4 x 800 relay team. Russo's top track times include 5:06.40 in the 1,600 and 11:31.89 in the 3,200.
Watch a postrace interview with Russo, from the 2011 cross country season
Alex Barker (Wernersville, Pa.) – Barker, a Conrad Weiser High School graduate, is the brother of current Liberty distance runner Zach Barker. Alex Barker has pushed his pole vault personal best from 13-3 as a sophomore to 15-2.25 as a senior. The 15-2.25 clearance earned an 11th-place finish at the 2012 New Balance Indoor Nationals.
Read Barker's pole vault profile
Sam Hibbs (Hatboro, Pa.) – The younger brother of former Liberty distance runner Dan Hibbs, Sam Hibbs closed out his high school career in style last weekend. The Hatboro-Horsham High School standout won the PIAA Class AAA state championship in the boys' 3,200 by five seconds. The previous week, Hibbs had clocked a personal-best 3,200 time of 9:08.62 to win the district title. On the cross country course, Hibbs was a three-time state placer at the Class AAA state meet, taking 12th place in 2009, seventh in 2010 and 13th in 2011. Hibbs' other notable track times feature a 4:15.96 effort in the 1,600 and a 15:24.21 in the 5K.
Watch an interview with Hibbs after his 3,200-meter state title race
Ken Ritchey (Forest, Va.) – Ritchey enjoyed a record-breaking day in the pole vault at the recent Seminole District meet. The Jefferson Forest High School senior's personal-best 15-3.5 clearance not only won the event but also set school, meet, district and Group AA records in the process. Now Ritchey will take aim at his first Virginia Group AA state pole vault title this weekend. He came in second in the pole vault at the 2012 Group AA indoor state meet.
Read a Lynchburg News & Advance article about Ritchey's 15-3.5 pole vault clearance