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Bendik, Shepherd Set for NCAA Championship Meet

June 5, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Redshirt seniors Melinda Bendik and Kolby Shepherd will both compete at this week's 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

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Des Moines Weather

For the ninth consecutive year, Liberty will have athletes competing at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Melinda Bendik (women's hammer) and Kolby Shepherd (men's pole vault) will take part in the 2012 edition, which will be contested Wednesday through Saturday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.

Bendik will make her NCAA national meet debut in the women's hammer Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Meanwhile, Shepherd will pole vault at this meet for the second year in a row, beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

How to Follow Melinda and Kolby
ESPN3.com will provide live video streaming coverage of the meet on both Thursday and Friday.

Live results, including throw-by-throw and jump-by-jump field event updates, will be available throughout the meet, courtesy of Flash Results, Inc.

LibertyFlames.com will be on hand in Des Moines, and updates will be posted to the official Twitter account of Liberty Flames Athletics (@libertyflames) during the women's hammer and men's pole vault.

Flotrack.org will post numerous athlete interviews on its website throughout the meet.

Des Moines Weather Report
The weather forecast appears quite promising for both the women's hammer on Thursday and the men's pole vault on Friday. Both days call for sunny skies and zero percent chance of rain, with Thursday's high temperature forecasted at 84 degrees and Friday's high predicted to be 89. Additionally, Shepherd and the other pole vaulters should benefit from a projected 13-mph tailwind during Friday's competition. 

About the Facility
Known best over the years for hosting the annual Drake Relays, Drake Stadium has become a regular venue for some of the nation's most important track & field meets in recent years. This week will mark the second straight year and the third time in the last five years that Drake Stadium has hosted the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Additionally, Drake Stadium was the site of the 2010 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships and will again play host to the event in 2013.

Drake Stadium, which boasts a seating capacity of 14,557, underwent a $15 million renovation in 2005. Improvements included widening the lanes on the distinctive light blue track, adding permanent lights and constructing a new video scoreboard.

Liberty has enjoyed success at Drake Stadium before, most notably at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. At that meet, Sam Chelanga closed out his collegiate career in style by winning his final race as a Liberty Flame, the men's 5K national title.

NCAA Championship Event Capsules (Organized Chronologically)

Women's Hammer
Event Schedule:
Final – Thursday at 4 p.m. Eastern

Liberty Competitor: Melinda Bendik (R-Sr., Odessa, Texas)

How She Got Here: As it turns out, Bendik's very first hammer throw of 190-9 would have been sufficient to qualify her from the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. However, she removed all doubt with her 202-7 bomb in the fifth round. That throw, which placed Bendik fourth in the competition, broke her own school record of 201-3.

Breaking Down Bendik: It seems fitting that Bendik is Liberty's first women's thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, because it has been a season of "firsts" for the Lone Star State native. Bendik became the first Lady Flame thrower to win an event at the ECAC Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championship, taking the women's hammer title. She also earned the Lady Flames' first Big South women's hammer championship since 1997.

Bendik has broken her own program record in the women's hammer at five different meets this season. The standard stood at 183-6 prior to the season, before Bendik improved it to 192-2, 194-5, 197-10, 201-3 and finally 202-7.

Bendik has made similar steady progression during her three years at Liberty. She arrived in Lynchburg with a personal-best hammer mark of 168-3 from her time at South Plains College. In 2010, Bendik's top throw reached 183-6. Last season, she stretched the tape to 198-3 during her redshirt season. This year, Bendik has broken through the 200-foot barrier at each of her last two competitions.

Although Bendik is Liberty's first women's thrower ever to reach the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, it is nothing new for the Flames to be involved in throwing events at this meet. Prior to this season, Liberty men's throwers qualified for the NCAA meet five consecutive years. The streak began in 2007, when current assistant coach Clendon Henderson threw the discus at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif.

A Look at the Competition: In the 16 years the women's hammer has been contested at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, only five times has an American won the national title. This year, two of the primary pre-meet favorites are Americans, in UNLV senior Amanda Bingson and Southern Illinois senior Jeneva McCall.

Bingson, who finished fourth at this meet in 2011, has enjoyed a stellar senior campaign. Most recently, she threw the hammer a personal-best and nation-leading 233-1 at the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Round meet in Austin, Texas. Her 2012 campaign also features victories at the Mountain West Conference meet, Texas Relays and Stanford Invitational.

McCall, Track & Field News' pick to finish first, is also a national title contender in the women's shot put and discus at Des Moines. The 2011 women's hammer national runner-up owns a personal best of 227-8. She has captured the Missouri Valley Conference and Drake Relays women's hammer crowns in 2012.

Two of the top foreign-born entrants are Kansas junior Alena Krechyk of Belarus and Georgia senior Nikola Lomnicka of Slovakia. The Big 12 champion, Krechyk has thrown the hammer 226-5 this season. Lomnicka was the 2010 national champion, before placing third in this event in 2011. This year, she won the SEC title and had the top throw at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet, 210-10.

Most of the nation's top women's hammer throwers hail from the West Region this season. If Bendik had thrown 202-7 at the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Round meet in Austin, she would have finished 13th, just outside the 12 qualifiers to Des Moines.

How The Event Will Progress in Des Moines: The 24 women's hammer competitors will each take three throws, at which point the field will be trimmed to nine finalists. Those nine athletes will then conclude the competition with three more throws apiece.

The top eight finishers will score points for their respective teams and earn first team All-America distinction. Placers No. 9-16 will become second team All-Americans. The rest of the women's hammer throwers will leave Des Moines as honorable mention All-Americans.

What's at Stake for Bendik: By making it to Des Moines, Bendik is guaranteed to become the Lady Flames' first All-American since Heather Sagan (1,500) and Andrea Wildrick (pole vault) in 2002, although All-America qualifications have changed since then.

Sagan and Wildrick are also the last two Lady Flames to score points at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Both of them finished second in their respective events in 2002.

Bendik has a chance to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials with a big throw in Des Moines. The "B" qualifying standard for the meet is 206-8.

Men's Pole Vault
Event Schedule: Final – Friday at 5:30 p.m. Eastern

Liberty Competitor: Kolby Shepherd (R-Sr., Dublin, Ga.)

How He Got Here: Shepherd's opening pole vault attempt at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Jacksonville, Fla., was a first-attempt clearance at a season-best 16-11.5. He then got over 17-3.5 on his second try, marking the Georgia native's highest clearance in more than a year. With only one miss up to that point in the competition, Shepherd was able to secure his second straight NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships qualification.

Scouting Out Shepherd: Last season, Shepherd became the first Liberty men's pole vaulter ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. However, he struggled in Des Moines, snapping his pole during warm-ups before tying for 20th place at 16-4.75.

This season, Shepherd's struggles have come in the form of injuries. Despite being limited, he still swept the Big South indoor and outdoor pole vault titles, making him a seven-time Big South champion for his career.

Shepherd is now as healthy as he has been all year, and his last two meets have seen his top performances of the 2012 outdoor campaign. Shepherd cleared 16-10 to place third at the IC4A meet, before reaching 17-3.5 at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet to qualify for Des Moines.

Prior to his 17-3.5 clearance in Jacksonville on May 26, Shepherd had not eclipsed the 17-foot barrier since vaulting 17-0.75 at the IC4A Indoor Track & Field Championship on March 3.

Shepherd's lifetime personal-best clearance of 17-7.25 came on Jan. 22, 2011, at the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Va. His top outdoor clearance, a school record-tying 17-6.5, happened on Shepherd's 22nd birthday, April 9, 2011 at the Texas Relays.

Shepherd has come a long way since first joining the Liberty team as a walk-on in the fall of 2007, with a high school pole vault personal best of 14-0.

A Look at the Competition: The men's pole vault competition in Des Moines became a lot more wide open and unpredictable after Arkansas' Andrew Irwin failed to qualify out of the NCAA Division I West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas. Irwin owns the NCAA's top pole vault clearance in 2012 at 18-9.25 and won the NCAA Division I indoor national title in March.

The absence of Irwin leaves just seven vaulters in the 24-man field who have gone over 18 feet before. Topping the list is Oral Roberts junior Jack Whitt, who went 18-4.5 in 2011. Michael Woepse of UCLA has cleared 18-2.5 this season, making the sophomore the highest vaulter in 2012 among the 24 entrants.

Whitt, who is Track & Field News' pick to win it all in Des Moines, owns the most impressive NCAA resume in the field. He was the national runner-up at this meet a year ago. Meanwhile, Whitt has posted third-place pole vault finishes at the 2011 and 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Whitt is undefeated during the 2012 outdoor season, highlighted by Summit League and Texas Relays titles.

South Carolina senior Marvin Reitze also figures to contend. The runner-up at the 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships has sailed over 18-1 during the outdoor season.

Shepherd will see a couple familiar faces on the runway in Des Moines, in long-time competitors Joe Davis and Hunter Hall of Virginia Tech. Last season, Davis finished eighth at this meet, while Hall followed in 11th place.

How the Event Will Progress in Des Moines: Unlike the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Jacksonville, Friday's competition will proceed like a customary pole vault event, until all competitors have missed three consecutive vaults and a national champion is determined.

The pole vault bar heights will progress as follows: 16-4.75 (5.00m), 16-10.75 (5.15m), 17-4.5 (5.30m), 17-8.5 (5.40m), 18-0.5 (5.50m), 18-2.5 (5.55m), 18-4.5 (5.60m), 18-6.5 (5.65m), 18-8.25 (5.70m) and so on, continuing to increase by five-centimeter increments from there.

As in the women's hammer throw, the top eight finishers will score points for their teams and become first team All-Americans. The ninth through 16th-place athletes will earn second team All-America recognition, with the remaining entrants becoming honorable mention All-Americans.

What's at Stake for Shepherd: Shepherd will attempt to improve upon his tie for 20th place a year ago, the highest finish ever for a Liberty men's pole vaulter at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Shepherd will also aim to produce the highest pole vault clearance ever by a Liberty Flame at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. That distinction currently rests with Todd Pettyjohn, who vaulted 17-0.75 in the 1993 NCAA decathlon competition. Shepherd currently shares the Liberty outdoor men's pole vault school record with Pettyjohn, at 17-6.5.

If Shepherd really has a good day on Friday, the U.S. Olympic Trials "B" qualifying standard of 18-0.5 could come into play.