Taylor Courtney is the reigning Big South 400 indoor champion and IC4A indoor 500 champion.
The 2011-12 Liberty indoor track & field season will begin next weekend, with the Liberty Kickoff (Dec. 2-3) inside the Tolsma Indoor Track Center. The season preview continues today with a look at the Flames' sprinters and hurdlers.
Men's Sprints The men's sprint events are expected to be some of the strongest and deepest disciplines in the Big South Conference this year, thanks to Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina's bevy of talented sprinters and the addition of Campbell to the conference. However, head coach Brant Tolsma believes Liberty's sprinters will be able to hold their own.
"We should be significantly improved in the sprints this year," Tolsma stated. "We return most of our sprinters from last year and add some strong newcomers. We have depth we haven't had in recent years, which should lead to stronger relays."
Junior Roderick Spruel is Liberty's top returnee in the 60 and 100 dashes, after qualifying for the IC4A meet in both events last season with times of 6.95 and 10.78, respectively.
Sophomores Anthony Settje and Conroy Smith should contribute as well. Settje enjoyed a promising freshman campaign, posting a time of 10.89 in the 100. Smith, who clocked 21.96 for the 200 in high school, battled injuries throughout his freshman season but is healthy entering his second campaign at Liberty.
Kyle Gill, LaChaddrick Ellis and Brady Shorey are the Flames' top additions to the sprint crew in 2011-12. The versatile Gill, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, owns impressive personal-best times of 10.63 for the 100, 21.48 for the 200 and 47.5 for the 400. Ellis, a Florida high school standout, has clocked 10.65 in the 100 and 21.40 in the 200. A Massachusetts native, Shorey has also shown potential during the preseason.
Liberty could also be aided in the 100 and 200 if any football players decide to compete for the track team this spring. Kevin Fogg, who has run for the Flames in past years, returned three kickoffs for touchdowns on the gridiron this season to lead all FCS players at the end of the regular season.
In the 400, the Flames' top returnees are juniors Taylor Courtney and Andre Washington. Courtney, who boasts a 48.05 personal best in the 400, is the reigning Big South indoor champion in the event. He also claimed the IC4A 500-meter title in impressive fashion, clocking a school-record time of 1:01.96 in the process. Washington, with a 48.14 personal best at 400 meters, aims to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2010-11 season.
Junior Paul Arslain, who had previously been an 800-meter specialist, will focus on the 400 more this season after a breakthrough performance at the 2011 Big South outdoor meet. Arslain posted a personal-best time of 48.78 and finished fifth in the final.
Men's Hurdles The 60 and 110-meter hurdles were among Liberty's weakest events last season, as the Flames did not score a point in either event final at the Big South meet.
Last year, the Flames' top time in the 60 hurdles was an 8.42 by decathlete Taylor Schmidt. Richard Whitted posted the team's top mark in the 110 hurdles at 15.65. Both Schmidt and Whitted are back this season and will be joined by redshirt sophomore Silvanous Parchment and freshmen Cody Bingham and Marc Jackson.
The 2010-11 Flames were solid in the 400 hurdles, led by Big South runner-up Taylor Courtney and conference seventh-place finisher Riley White. Courtney clocked an IC4A-qualifying time of 52.67 seconds, while White's best performance was a 55.41
This year, Liberty should have more depth in the event, with Courtney and White being joined by Jackson, Whitted and Andre Washington.
Women's Sprints As with the men's sprint crew, Tolsma expects the women's sprinters to be improved this season. The Lady Flames will feature a nice mixture of senior leadership and promising newcomers.
Seniors Alyssa Pegues and Olivia Charnuski will anchor the Lady Flames' sprinters, with Pegues leading the way in the 60 and 100 and Charnuski making her top contributions in the 200.
Last year, Pegues lowered her 60-meter time to 7.62 and clocked 11.90 in the 100. The Georgia native made the ECAC 60-meter final, finishing eighth.
Better known as a hurdler, Charnuski came into her own as a 200-meter runner in 2010-11. She twice broke the program indoor record in the event, dropping it to 24.87 seconds. Charnuski placed third in the Big South outdoor 200 final and came in fourth indoors.
The Lady Flames' most promising newcomers—Abigail Flower and Meme Layne—both hail from Virginia. Flower, a Lynchburg native, helped E.C. Glass High School win state titles in the indoor 4 x 200 and outdoor 4 x 100 relays as a senior. She has clocked 7.23 seconds for the 55 and 12.21 for the 100. Meanwhile, Layne was a state runner-up in the 100 at Eastern View High School, posting a personal-best time of 11.95 seconds.
Tolsma believes that Pegues, Charnuski, Flower and Layne could challenge the program 4 x 100 relay record of 45.95 seconds, set in 2007.
Liberty is not as strong at 400 meters, although the Lady Flames do return two sophomores who scored points at the Big South meet last year. Kiara Bridges, whose best freshman time was 57.58, placed fourth at the indoor conference meet and came in fifth outdoors. Fellow rookie Kylie McMichael was at her best at the Big South outdoor championship, earning an eighth-place finish.
The Lady Flames do have a number of versatile athletes who could join Bridges and McMichael on the 4 x 400 relay, including Mia Aghaji, Meghan Burggraf, Christina Mitchell and Melanie Sims. Burggraf, a three-time Big South champion at 800 meters, posted the Lady Flames' fastest 400 clocking a season ago, at 57.18.
Women's Hurdles Senior Olivia Charnuski headlines the Lady Flames' rather deep and experienced group of hurdlers. The school-record holder in the 100 hurdles at 13.65 seconds, Charnuski won the event at the 2011 Big South outdoor meet for her first career individual conference championship.
Redshirt senior Rachel Houseknecht, the seventh-place finisher in the Big South 100 hurdles final, dropped her personal-best time to 14.58 last season and looks to close her career in style.
Heptathletes are also expected to contribute in the 100 hurdles, as Christina Mitchell has run 14.70 while freshman Audrey Bamford clocked a 14.85 in high school.
Liberty should also fare well in the 400 hurdles, with three returning runners who have gone under 63 seconds and four who have made the Big South final. Senior Melanie Sims owns the top personal-best of the bunch at 62.62, followed by Mitchell at 62.79, Charnuski at 62.99 and redshirt senior Mia Aghaji at 63.90.
In 2010, the entire quartet made the Big South final, with Charnuski finishing second, Sims third, Mitchell fifth and Aghaji ninth. Last year, Sims was second and Mitchell took third.
This year, the veteran quartet will be joined by Erin Carney, who recorded a time of 65.23 seconds while competing for Newfield High School in New York.
Check back next week for the final part of the season preview series, which will profile the mid-distance and distance events.
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