The third time was the charm for Liberty senior Azaria Kirwa in the men's 10K at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet, Thursday at Hodges Stadium. After coming in 13th (one spot away from national qualification) in the 10K at this meet in both 2017 and 2018, Kirwa punched his ticket to the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships with a sixth-place finish and a personal-best time of 28:56.84.
Racing on the same track where he swept the ASUN men's 5K and 10K titles two weeks earlier, Kirwa steadily worked his way up through the crowded 48-runner field. After briefly taking the lead, Kirwa ended up sixth among the race's 12 national qualifiers, 27 seconds clear of the dreaded 13th place.
Kirwa's 28:56.84 clocking makes him just the third Flame ever to break 29:00 in the 10K, joining NCAA national record holder Sam Chelanga and Josh McDougal. The native of Eldoret, Kenya cut nine seconds off his personal best and improved his season best by more than 25 seconds. Kirwa was one of six runners among Thursday's top 10 to set a new personal best and one of 16 competitors to run faster than the previous facility record of 29:41.95.
Kirwa will make his second visit to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, after previously qualifying in the 5K in 2017. He is the first Flame to reach the national meet in the 10K since Chelanga in 2011.
Kirwa's NCAA men's 10K final will be contested June 5 at 10:08 p.m. Eastern at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas. He also has a chance to qualify for Austin in a second event, as Kirwa is entered in the men's 5K, Saturday at 8:45 p.m.
Thanks to their performances on Thursday, two other Liberty seniors will have a chance to punch their Austin tickets on Friday.
Alejandro Perlaza Zapata advanced to the men's 400 quarterfinals by winning his first-round heat in a season-best time of 45.45. That was the second fastest time among Thursday's six heats and ranks No. 7 in the NCAA this season. Perlaza Zapata's quarterfinal race is slated for Friday at 5:45 p.m.
Michael Todd raced to a time of 1:49.86 for third place in his first-round heat of the men's 800, earning a berth in the quarterfinals. Interestingly, the Alaska native was the only men's 800 runner in the field to clock his fastest time of the 2019 season on Thursday. Todd will be back in action Friday at 6:45 p.m. with a chance to become the Flames' first-ever 800-meter runner ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Men's NCAA National Qualifiers Azaria Kirwa – 10K – 28:56.84
Men's Athletes Who Advanced to Friday's Quarterfinals Alejandro Perlaza Zapata – 400 – 45.45 Michael Todd – 800 – 1:49.86
Updates to Liberty's All-Time Men's Top 10 List 10K – No. 3 – Azaria Kirwa – 28:56.84
Up Next Liberty will resume competition at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet on Friday at noon with Chelsea Igberaese throwing the women's discus and Denzel Pratt competing in the men's javelin.