Brant Tolsma, Liberty's Director of Track & Field and Cross Country, wrapped up his 34th year coaching the Flames in 2019-20. During his three-plus decades on campus, Tolsma led Liberty to an amazing amount of success at the national and conference levels.
Tolsma announced his retirement on Feb. 29, 2020, after the Flames and Lady Flames swept the team titles at the ASUN Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex. That proved to be the final meet he coached, as the 2020 outdoor track & field season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus. Tolsma was first hired at Liberty in 1986 by the Flames' first track & field coach, Liberty Athletics Hall of Famer Jake Matthes, to serve as the head men's track & field coach. By 1991, Tolsma oversaw the men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track & field and men's and women's outdoor track & field programs. Tolsma celebrated his 100th conference championship at Liberty when the women's cross country team won the 2016 Big South title. Under Tolsma's guidance, Liberty's cross country and track & field squads won 98 Big South championships, seven Mason-Dixon championships, six ASUN championships, three IC4A team titles and two ECAC crowns, for a total of 116 conference titles.
The summer of 2018 was an exciting one for Tolsma, who was chosen as the head coach of the USA Team for the inaugural FISU America Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Tolsma guided Liberty to eight consecutive Big South men's Triple Crowns, as the Flames swept every conference men's cross country, men's indoor track & field and men's outdoor track & field title between fall 2006 and spring 2014. Tolsma and legendary Kansas head coach Bill Easton (1951-59, Big 8 Conference) are the only two coaches ever to lead their teams to eight straight men's Triple Crowns in an NCAA Division I conference. The 2009-10 athletic year was one of the finest in program history, highlighted by the Big South Conference's first-ever "Double Triple." The unique achievement, which has only been accomplished by 10 different schools in NCAA Division I history, saw the Flames and Lady Flames sweep all six Big South titles (men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field and women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field). Liberty nearly repeated the feat in 2016-17, but fell seven points short in men's cross country. Individually, Sam Chelanga closed his career in 2011 with a total of four NCAA national titles, including two apiece in cross country and outdoor track & field. Additionally, Heather (Sagan) Zealand won the mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and Josh McDougal was the national champion at the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Tolsma was at the helm for each of the Flames' six individual national titles. Chelanga's performance at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which included a 5K national championship and a runner-up finish in the 10K, helped Liberty tie for 12th place in the final men's team standings. That is the highest NCAA Division I team finish in program and Big South Conference history in either cross country or track & field. Tolsma won a total of 71 Big South Coach of the Year honors, six ASUN Coach of the Year recognitions, a pair of NCAA District Coach of the Year awards and the inaugural VaSID State Men's Indoor Track & Field Coach of the Year honor in 2020. Meanwhile, Tolsma's athletes earned a combined 61 All-America honors at the NCAA Division I level. Tolsma's student-athletes also excelled in the classroom during his tenure at Liberty. Twelve Liberty cross country/track & field student-athletes earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors at the Division I level under his guidance. Tolsma's track coaching career began at Campbell in Buies Creek, N.C., where he served as the head men's cross country and track & field coach for seven years (1979-86). He then took the helm of the Camels' women's cross country and track & field programs when those sports were inaugurated in 1982-83. Tolsma completed his undergraduate work with summa cum laude distinction in 1971 at Newark College of Engineering, since renamed New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). He went on to earn a master's degree in hydraulic engineering from Michigan in 1973 and a Ph.D. in the biomechanics of sport from Indiana in 1979. Tolsma's doctoral dissertation was entitled "Leg Dynamics of Maximum Speed Sprinting." Tolsma has published several articles about track & field training and in 2001 released a book, The Surrendered Christian Athlete, which expounds the role of the Christian faith in athletics. He has also designed several athletic training devices. Tolsma has been active as a master's track & field competitor for two decades. He won his age group in the World Double Decathlon Championship in both 2005 and 2010, as well as the Masters National Decathlon Championship in both 1993 and 2003. He placed second at the World Veterans Games decathlon in 1995 and at the 2002 World Double-Decathlon Championship in Finland. During September 2010 at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex, Tolsma set the world record for men aged 60 and over in the double decathlon, a two-day, 20-event competition which includes all of the track & field disciplines. In October 2007, Tolsma broke his age group's world record for the one-day double decathlon. Tolsma also set an age group (55-60) world record for the double heptathlon in December 2008, while competing at Liberty's former indoor track & field facility bearing his name (Tolsma Indoor Track Center). The former president of the International Association of Ultra Multi-events, Tolsma has raced nearly every competitive distance from 50 meters to 50 miles. The latter he did to celebrate reaching age 50. Tolsma enjoys a number of sports and fitness activities, especially water-skiing. His wife Nancy is the mother of his six children: Michelle, who is married to former Liberty tennis player Matthew Schley; Rachel Parker; Brenda, who is married to current Liberty associate head track & field coach Clendon Henderson; Regina Hurst; Joey and Tami Acree, a four-year member of the Liberty women's track & field team who graduated in May 2012. Tolsma also has 16 grandchildren as of 2020.