(L-R): Coach Andrew "Pete" McFadden, Delaney McDowell, Tanner Ealum, Cortney Dowling, Ty'Asia Dansbury
Liberty punctuated its most successful NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round appearance to date with two additional national qualifications during the meet's final two events, Saturday at Hodges Stadium. The Lady Flames' 4 x 400 relay team of Tanner Ealum, Ty'Asia Dansbury, Delaney McDowell and Cortney Dowling punched its ticket to Austin, while Azaria Kirwa advanced in a second event (men's 5K).
Liberty will send a program-record nine athletes to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Austin, Texas, eclipsing the previous standard of five from 2007 and 2018. Saturday's qualifiers will be joined in the Lone Star State by Chelsea Igberaese (women's discus), Felix Kandie (men's steeplechase), Alejandro Perlaza Zapata (men's 400) and Denzel Pratt (men's javelin).
The 4 x 400 squad will be Liberty's first relay team ever to compete at the NCAA Division I national meet, either indoors or outdoors. The Lady Flames are also the first ASUN Conference women's 4 x 400 relay team ever to reach the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
The Lady Flames raced to a school-record time of 3:33.20, slashing 2.57 seconds off their previous school record set two weeks earlier on the same track at the ASUN Championship. However, their national berth was not guaranteed until Dowling overtook LSU's anchor during the final straightaway for third place in the heat. Liberty finished with the eighth fastest time overall between the 4 x 400 heats.
Three of Liberty's four relay legs (Ealum, Dansbury and Dowling) returned from the 2018 NCAA Division I Preliminary Round meet, where the Lady Flames finished one spot away from the national meet in 13th place. Ealum's 54.4-second opening leg sent Liberty on its way toward Austin, and she was followed up by personal-best splits from Dansbury (51.4), McDowell (54.82) and Dowling (52.57). Dansbury's exceptional performance helped begin her birthday celebration a couple hours before the sophomore officially turns 21 on Saturday.
The Lady Flames' next 4 x 400 race will come in the NCAA national semifinals, June 6 at 11:18 p.m. Eastern in Austin.
Two nights after punching his Austin ticket in the men's 10K, Kirwa reached the national meet in the 5K for the second time in his career (also 2017). The senior from Eldoret, Kenya led for more than half of the race. He then clocked a 59.74-second final lap to hold off ASUN rival Noah Perkins of North Florida for the fifth and final automatic qualifying berth from his heat. Kirwa's final time was a season-best 14:02.15.
Kirwa was one of three runners from the East Region to qualify to Austin in both the men's 5K and 10K, joining Gilbert Kigen of Alabama and Aaron Templeton of Furman. He will race in the 5K final, the next-to-last men's event of the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, June 7 at 10:25 p.m. Eastern.
Kyle Mitchell became the second Flame to finish 13th in as many days, one spot away from national qualification. The sophomore from Jamaica threw a personal-best 61-3 on his second attempt to tie Coach Clendon Henderson's program record from the 2008 Texas Relays. However, he finished just 1.25 inches behind the 12th and final Austin qualifier, Isaiah Rogers of Virginia Tech.
All in all, more than half (9 of 17) of Liberty's NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round qualifiers successfully punched tickets to Austin over the course of the three-day meet, while two more (Mitchell and Michael Todd – men's 800) just missed advancing by one place.
Men's NCAA National Qualifiers Azaria Kirwa – 5K – 14:02.15
Women's NCAA National Qualifiers Tanner Ealum, Ty'Asia Dansbury, Delaney McDowell, Cortney Dowling – 4 x 400 – 3:33.20
Men's Record Breakers School Record (Tied) – Shot Put – Kyle Mitchell – 61-3 Tied Record: 61-3 by Clendon Henderson at the 2008 Texas Relays
Women's Record Breakers School Record – 4 x 400 – Ealum, Dansbury, McDowell, Dowling – 3:33.20 Old Record: 3:35.77 by the same quartet at the ASUN Championship on May 11
Updates to Liberty's All-Time Men's Top 10 List Shot Put – Tie for No. 1 – Kyle Mitchell – 61-3
Updates to Liberty's All-Time Women's Top 10 List 4 x 400 – No. 1 – Ealum, Dansbury, McDowell, Dowling – 3:33.20
Up Next Liberty will head to Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas for the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, June 5-8.