Ryan Smith begins his senior season as an eight-time Big South champion in the throwing events.
The 2013 Liberty men's track & field team will feature a nice mixture of the familiar and the new, beginning with its home outdoor facility, the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex. The track's location at Osborne Stadium remains the same, but the surface was completely rebuilt over the offseason, in preparation for the 2013 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Kolby Shepherd, the Flames' captain and lone All-American from 2012, has graduated. However, he will remain with the team in the new role of volunteer coach for the pole vault.
With Shepherd gone from the roster, head coach Brant Tolsma noted, "We are lacking a sure national scorer, but we do have good depth in most events. We also have a nice collection of potential national qualifiers."
Four current Flames have competed at the NCAA Division I Preliminary Round meet during their career, including Josh MacDonald, Ryan Smith, Isaac Wendland and Kyle Wheeler. Meanwhile, Smith, Wheeler, Jacob DeValve, Cody Fridgen, Ngetich Kipchirchir and Leonard Robbins have all won Big South individual event titles.
"Liberty University has demonstrated a great deal of support for our program," explained Tolsma. "We are well positioned to continue to move our program forward. That's our goal."
One of the team's primary goals for this season is to continue its run of dominance in the Big South Conference. After winning the Big South cross country title in October, the Flames are one-third of the way toward claiming their seventh consecutive Big South "Triple Crown" of cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field conference championships.
Liberty will also aim to return to the ranks of the IC4A's elite programs, after tying for ninth indoors and sharing 11th place outdoors a year ago. The Flames' most recent lofty IC4A finish came at the 2011 indoor meet, where Liberty tied for the runner-up spot.
One of the Flames' greatest challenges in 2013 will be continuing their streak of scoring points at either the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships or both. Liberty has scored points at the NCAA Division I national level for eight consecutive seasons and is the only FCS football-playing school which can make that claim.
An event-by-event look at the 2013 Flames follows.
Sprints/Hurdles Depth is the Flames' greatest asset in the sprinting events, as six runners hit the IC4A standard in the 100-meter dash last season and each of them is back in 2013. The half dozen IC4A qualifiers from 2012 include (in order of 2012 season-best 100 clockings) Maxwell Asante (10.66), ConRoy Smith (10.75), Tarell Williams (10.75), Anthony Settje (10.76), Roderick Spruel (10.76) and Kyle Gill (10.80).
Stepping up to the 200 and 400-meter dashes, Leonard Robbins and Andre Washington enter the picture. Robbins swept the Big South indoor and outdoor 400 titles as a freshman last season, clocking a season-best time of 47.37. He also posted the Flames' top 200 time of the year at 21.34, finishing fourth in the event at the Big South indoor and outdoor meets.
Asante, Spruel and Washington are all seniors, leading Tolsma to state, "We're hoping that our experience and maturity in the sprints bodes well for a good year."
A junior, Smith especially seems poised for a big year. One of the team's co-captains along with decathlete Jacob DeValve, Smith raced to an impressive victory in the 200-meter dash at the indoor season-opening Liberty Kickoff in a time of 22.11 seconds.
With the wealth of options, which also include DeValve and Paul Arslain in the 4 x 400 relay, Tolsma hopes that the Flames can improve upon their 4 x 100 time of 40.65 from 2012 and crack the 3:10 barrier in the 4 x 400 for the first time since 1997.
Conversely to the sprints, Liberty does not have much depth nor experience in the hurdle events. Tolsma listed Cody Bingham, Marc Jackson and Silvanous Parchment as potential Big South scorers.
Washington could help out in the hurdles, as evidenced by his 8.37 time in the 60 hurdles at the Liberty Kickoff. Fellow sprinter Smith has been doing some hurdle work as well and may present another option this season.
Mid-distance Redshirt senior Isaac Wendland, who will close out his collegiate career during the outdoor season, anchors Liberty's mid-distance crew. Wendland, who boasts personal-best times of 1:50.22 in the 800 and 3:47.12 in the 1,500, advanced to the quarterfinal round of the 1,500 at the 2011 NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet. He is also a five-time All-Big South competitor in events stretching from 800 meters to the mile.
Senior Paul Arslain provides the Flames with another experienced option in the 800. In 2012, he lowered his personal best to 1:53.55 and finished fourth in the Big South indoor and outdoor 800-meter finals.
A junior, Jarred Cornfield has placed fourth in the Big South 1,500-meter final during each of his first two seasons. He is also the second-fastest 1,000-meter runner in program history, at 2:25.94.
Liberty will also be looking for underclassmen Sam Hibbs, Cole Honeycutt, Trevor Hope and John Sherret to step up in the mid-distance events.
Distance Liberty enjoyed a dominant performance at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championship, placing three runners in the top four and seven in the top 14, even without Josh MacDonald in the lineup.
The Flames hope to translate their cross country success onto the track, where they figure to be paced by MacDonald and the trio of David Ricksecker, Caleb Edmonds and Ngetich Kipchirchir. Ricksecker, Edmonds and Kipchirchir finished second, third and fourth, respectively, at the Big South Cross Country Championship this past fall.
MacDonald starred in the steeplechase a year ago, qualifying for the NCAA Division I Preliminary Round meet with a time of 8:56.65. He was second at the Big South meet and third at the IC4A Championship.
Other steeplechase options include Edmonds (9:16.36 personal best), Jeremie Bourget (5:56 for the 2K steeplechase in high school), Nate Jones and Will Templeton.
Edmonds was the 2012 Big South outdoor runner-up in the 5K and owns the fastest personal best on the team at 14:19.09. Ricksecker (14:27.74) and MacDonald (14:32.18) have also recorded times under 14:40.
Kipchirchir captured the Big South 10K title in 2012 and dropped his time to 30:27.90 at the IC4A meet. He was also Liberty's No. 1 runner in the 10K at the 2012 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championship, placing 26th overall.
Ricksecker, who placed fifth in the Big South 10K final last year, is another option in the 25-lapper, along with Templeton and Zach Barker.
Jumps Sophomore Kyle Wheeler is Liberty's top returnee in the jumping events. He swept the Big South indoor and outdoor high jump crowns in 2012 and was named Big South Men's Freshman of the Year at both meets. Wheeler tied the outdoor high jump school record of 7-1 and competed at the NCAA Division I Preliminary Round meet.
Liberty does not have much depth behind Wheeler in the high jump, though. Multi-event athlete Tevan McIntire owns the next-highest personal best on the team at 6-4.
Wheeler, whose top long jump mark is 23-6.75, has a lot more company in that event. Seniors Aaron Johnson (24-2.5) and Kevin Reddington (24-1) have both sailed past 24 feet. Junior Tarell Williams has reached 23-0.75.
Meanwhile, Wheeler is the only Flame currently practicing the triple jump. He topped out at 46-1.5 as a freshman and came in sixth at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championship.
Redshirt senior Cody Fridgen anchors a young group of pole vaulters. The 2010 Big South outdoor pole vault champion has cleared 15-9. His understudies this season include redshirt freshman Cody Bingham (15-7 personal best), freshman Ken Ritchey (15-3.5), freshman Alexandru Barker (15-2.25) and sophomore Matthew Thompson (14-7.25).
Throws Ryan Smith, a redshirt senior, will try to punctuate his already impressive career by advancing to the NCAA Division I national meet for the first time. He was voted Big South Men's Most Outstanding Field Performer in 2012 after winning conference titles in the indoor shot put and weight throw and outdoor shot put and discus.
Now an eight-time Big South champion (six of which have come in the shot put), Smith bolstered his personal bests to 60-1.75 in the shot put, 169-11 in the discus, 63-6.25 in the weight throw and 194-11 in the hammer last year.
Sophomore David Scouten captured three All-Big South honors as a freshman, highlighted by a runner-up finish behind Smith in the discus final. Scouten's top marks last season included 53-6.5 in the shot put and 167-1 in the discus.
A junior, Tim Abbott's greatest success has come in the discus. Last year, he threw 167-4, while placing fourth in the Big South and seventh in the IC4A.
Decathlete Jacob DeValve provides additional depth in several of the throwing events. He has reached 51-7.75 in the shot put, 146-5 in the discus and 196-7 in the javelin.
DeValve is joined in the javelin by sophomores Steve Feister (211-5 personal best) and Daniel Klase (192-10). Feister finished fourth in the Big South and seventh in the IC4A as a rookie, while Klase was the Big South's sixth-place javelin thrower.
Multi Events Redshirt junior Jacob DeValve, who has battled injuries for much of his career, got healthy long enough to win his first Big South decathlon title last season, scoring 6,904 points. If he can stay injury-free and progress in the jumping events this year, Tolsma believes he could be a national-level decathlete.
Redshirt junior Harrison Allen and redshirt sophomore Tevan McIntire are the Flames' most experienced multi-event athletes. Allen came in third in the Big South heptathlon competition in 2012, while McIntire placed fourth in the Big South decathlon.
The son of associate head coach Lance Bingham, Cody Bingham will make his Liberty debut this year, after redshirting the 2012 season. He owns some impressive personal bests, including 15-7 in the pole vault, 14.73 in the 110 hurdles and 39.78 in the 300 hurdles.
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