In conjunction with the Big South's year-long initiative, LibertyFlames.com will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Title IX through a series of stories and videos which spotlight each of Liberty's women's athletics teams, one per month throughout the 2012-13 academic year. This month, the spotlight will be on the women's cross country and track & field teams.
The highly-successful Liberty women's cross country and track & field programs started in 1977, with Ron Hopkins as head coach. He quickly built the program into a national contender, as the Lady Flames won the 1981 NCCAA national track & field title. After moving up to NCAA Division II, Liberty posted a fourth-place finish at the 1987 national cross country meet and finished seventh nationally the following spring in outdoor track & field.
Hopkins tragically died while he was out for a run in 1990, and Liberty's outdoor track & field complex was named for him and the Flames' first men's track & field coach, Jake Matthes, shortly thereafter. Brant Tolsma took over as women's cross country and track & field head coach in the fall of 1991 and still holds those titles today.
Tolsma has guided the Lady Flames to an impressive list of achievements on both the Big South and NCAA Division I national levels during his time at the helm. On Nov. 2, 1991, Liberty captured its first-ever Big South team titles, when the Flames and Lady Flames swept the conference men's and women's cross country crowns.
Beginning with that 1991 cross country championship, Tolsma has coached Liberty to a combined 30 Big South titles in women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. The Lady Flames have won more Big South indoor track & field (10) and outdoor track & field (12) crowns than any other team in conference history.
Liberty first made its mark at the Division I national level at the 2000 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Andrea Wildrick tied for ninth place in the women's pole vault, becoming the Lady Flames' first NCAA Division I All-American.
Two years later, Heather Sagan became Liberty's first NCAA Division I national champion in any sport, when she won the women's mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. The duo of Sagan and Wildrick helped the Lady Flames finish 15th at the meet. Liberty then tied for 15th place at the 2002 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, thanks to national runner-up finishes by both Sagan (1,500) and Wildrick (pole vault). Those are the highest national team finishes by any women's squad in Big South track & field history.
The Lady Flames' most impressive achievement since then came in 2009-10, when Liberty swept the Big South titles in women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. Liberty also claimed Big South championships in men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field that year, making it the first "Double Triple" in Big South Conference history. Liberty is one of only 10 NCAA Division I schools ever to complete a conference "Double Triple."
Years of Competition: 37 (1977-Present) Big South Conference Championships: 30 (Cross Country – 8, Indoor Track & Field – 10, Outdoor Track & Field – 12)
Top Honors CoSIDA Academic All-Americans: 6 NCAA Division I All-Americans: 6 NCAA Division I National Champions: 1 ECAC Individual Event Champions: 11 Big South Individual Event Champions: 192
Total Number of Cross Country Participants: 173 Total Number of Track & Field Participants: Approximately 500 (Complete rosters are not available for the early years of the track & field program.) Cross Country Team History Page Track & Field Team History Page
Title IX Anniversary – Top Liberty Women's Cross Country/Track & Field Moments May 26, 1984 – Gibson Breaks 20-Foot Barrier in Long Jump Gina Gibson long jumped 20-0.25 at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships, finishing third and earning All-America honors. The effort, which still ranks as Liberty's school record nearly 30 years later, made Gibson the Lady Flames' first multiple NCAA Division II All-American. She is now a member of the Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame.
Fall 1991 – Brant Tolsma Takes Over as Women's Cross Country/Track & Field Coach The 1991-92 school year marked the first year that Brant Tolsma served as head coach for the Liberty women's cross country and track & field squads, positions he still holds today. Tolsma has led the Lady Flames to 30 Big South titles and is a 20-time Big South Coach of the Year in women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field.
Nov. 2, 1991 – Liberty Wins its First Big South Title in a Women's Sport The Liberty women's cross country team became the first Lady Flames squad ever to win a Big South Conference title, rolling to a 27-84 victory over Davidson at the Big South Cross Country Championships. The Lady Flames placed five runners in the top eight on the way to their first of eight Big South women's cross country crowns in program history.
June 2, 2000 – Wildrick Becomes Lady Flames' First NCAA Division I All-American Andrea Wildrick pole vaulted 13-1.5 to tie for ninth place at the 2000 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The performance made her the first Liberty women's track & field athlete to garner NCAA Division I All-America honors.
March 9, 2002 – Sagan Races to NCAA National Title in the Women's Mile Heather Sagan became Liberty's first NCAA Division I individual national champion in any sport by winning the women's mile title at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. She came from behind to edge UCLA's Lena Nilsson and North Carolina's Shalane Flanagan in a time of 4:38.52.
June 1, 2002 – Lady Flames Tie for 15th Place in NCAA The Liberty women's squad tied Washington State for 15th place at the 2002 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, after the Lady Flames had also finished 15th at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Those are the highest NCAA national placements by any women's team in Big South track & field history. Liberty's points came courtesy of national runner-up finishes by Heather Sagan (1,500) and Andrea Wildrick (pole vault). Danielle McNaney (heptathlon) also competed at the national meet, becoming the first Liberty freshman to qualify for nationals.
April 17, 2010 – Liberty Women's Outdoor Track & Field Team Helps Complete Big South Double Triple Liberty cruised to a 245.5-191 victory over Coastal Carolina at the 2010 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships. The performance helped Liberty become just the ninth NCAA Division I school ever to complete a conference "Double Triple" in one year, consisting of Big South titles in women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field, as well as men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. Previous Liberty Athletics Title IX Features September - Volleyball October - Women's Soccer November - Field Hockey
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