The 13th edition of the Liberty Kickoff was anything but unlucky for the host Flames and Lady Flames, Saturday at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex. Liberty totaled three school records, five event victories, 10 new IC4A qualifiers and four new ECAC qualifiers on the day.
The Flames' new school records came in the men's heptathlon (Markus Ballengee – 5,523), men's 4 x 400 relay (Jahquez Durham, Michael Todd, Jeff Jacobs, Alejandro Perlaza Zapata – 3:12.95) and women's 1,000 (Delaney McDowell – 2:49.95). Ballengee and McDowell also set Big South Conference records in the process, while Ballengee shattered the facility and meet heptathlon standards.
Perlaza Zapata set a meet record of his own, winning the men's 800 crown in 1:52.40. Liberty's other Saturday victories came courtesy of Ballengee, the men's 4 x 400 relay quartet, Darrel Jones (men's triple jump) and Erin Zappia (women's high jump).
On a day filled with incredible performances, arguably the most impressive of them all was posted by Virginia Tech junior Rachel Pocratsky. Her women's 1,000-meter time of 2:41.98 ranks No. 1 in the NCAA and No. 3 in the world for 2018. She also moved into a tie for seventh place on the all-time collegiate list for the five-lap event.
Men's Day Two Recap Ballengee trailed teammate Chukwuma Maduka by 33 points after Friday's quartet of heptathlon events. However, the sophomore left everyone in his wake on Saturday after recording his fourth, fifth and sixth personal-best marks of the two-day competition.
Ballengee's final score of 5,523 shattered the previous Liberty and Big South Conference records, both of which were set by All-American Brandon Hoskins with his mark of 5,383 at the 2008 Big South meet. Ballengee now ranks No. 12 on the NCAA Division I heptathlon list this season.
Ballengee got his day started with an 8.28 clocking in the 60 hurdles, which ranks No. 7 in program history. His personal-best 15-9 pole vault clearance earned an IC4A qualifier in that event. Ballengee then put an exclamation point on his performance by winning the heptathlon 1,000 in a personal-best 2:45.26.
Maduka ended up third overall with 4,859 points. He now sits No. 10 on Liberty's all-time list after his heptathlon debut. Redshirt freshman teammate Jeremy Davis finished fifth at 4,248.
Perlaza Zapata, who ran the 4 x 400 relay for Colombia at the 2016 Rio Olympics, made his much-anticipated debut in a Liberty uniform on Saturday. He started out by successfully stepping up to the 800-meter distance, winning in a meet-record and IC4A-qualifying time of 1:52.40. The time ranks fifth on Liberty's all-time ledger.
Later on, Perlaza Zapata anchored the Flames' 4 x 400 relay team to both a come-from-behind victory over Hampton and a school record with his 45.89-second carry. Liberty's time of 3:12.95, which came during an action-packed race where the facility lights briefly went dark, improved upon the program standard of 3:13.18, set by Durham, Todd, Jacobs and Stephen Racanelli at the 2017 IC4A meet.
Jones' season-best 50-3.25 triple jump measured the same as the top effort by Wingate's Nathanael Patterson. However, Jones was awarded the victory by virtue of a better second jump. He was followed in fourth place by teammate Jonny Saintil, whose 47-7.75 hop, skip and jump punched his IC4A ticket.
Liberty attained three IC4A qualifiers in a stacked opening section of the men's 1,000, including Colin Schultz (seventh place, 2:25.13), Bradley Prentice (12th, 2:27.12) and Todd (2:27.36). Prentice and Todd both moved into Liberty's all-time top five in an event where 16 runners broke the previous meet record (2:28.94) and five came in under the facility record (2:24.64), led by Virginia Tech's Neil Gourley at 2:21.89.
Racing for the first time since earning cross country All-America honors in November, Azaria Kirwa also faced stiff competition on Saturday. He sliced over five seconds off of his mile personal-best, but his 4:11.87 effort was only good for 11th place. Kirwa's IC4A-qualifying time ranks eighth in program history.
Transfer Travis Henderson excelled in his Liberty debut on Saturday, coming in ninth in the men's 200. His 21.88 clocking met the IC4A standard and puts him eighth on Liberty's all-time list.
Other Flames to post top-10 finishes on the day included Carson Waters in the men's pole vault (third, 16-2.75) and Jacobs in the men's 400 (eighth, 49.78).
Women's Day Two Recap McDowell's school-record 2:49.95 effort, good for fifth place in the women's 1,000, lopped more than five seconds off the junior's previous personal best. She qualified for the ECAC meet while bettering teammate Anna Van Wyk's Liberty and Big South standard of 2:51.47 from the 2017 Liberty Elite Invitational.
Zappia was one of three women's high jumpers to make it over 5-7, but she was the only one to get there with a single miss and earned the victory. The Illinois native's clearance was an ECAC qualifier and tops the 2018 Big South list.
Freshman Naomi Mojica wasted no time establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with in the women's shot put. She threw 50-0.5 for second place in the event, second place in program history and third place all-time in the Big South. Senior teammate Dasiana Larson, the defending Big South champion in the event, added an eighth-place finish at 45-0.25.
Tanner Ealum (personal-best 1:14.33) and newcomer Kimone Green (1:16.86) finished 2-3 in the women's 500-meter dash. Ealum climbs to No. 2 and Green to No. 8 on Liberty's all-time top 10 ledger.
Olivia Behymer clocked an indoor personal-best 400 time of 56.98 for seventh place in the event, 10th place all-time for the Lady Flames and the top performance in the Big South this season.
Capping off the meet, Green, McDowell, Behymer and Ealum came in second in the women's 4 x 400 relay at 3:45.35. In the process, they punched their ECAC tickets and became the Lady Flames' fifth-fastest quartet ever.
A pair of Liberty freshman distance runners recorded impressive collegiate track debuts on Saturday, including Noel Palmer (fifth in 3K, 10:10.18) and Mary Kate McElroy (10th in mile, 5:12.34).
Up Next Liberty will play host to the fourth annual Darius Dixon Memorial Invitational, Friday and Saturday at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex. The meet will feature approximately 25 NCAA Division I teams.
Meanwhile, Kirwa will head to the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, N.C. to compete against Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo and a loaded field in the men's 3K at the Camel City Invitational, Saturday at 2 p.m.