NIFA team dominates Regionals

Domination — Liberty’s NIFA team took first place in all but one event in the Region X tournament. The team will compete at Nationals on May 14 to 19. Photo provided

Flight competition team wins seventh consecutive Region X tournament, proceeds to Nationals

Liberty University’s National Intercollegiate Flying Association (NIFA) team claimed their seventh straight regional tournament since the team’s inception 10 years ago. The Region X competition took place at Franklin Municipal Airport in Franklin, Va. from Oct. 27 to 29.

Most of Liberty’s current NIFA team members had never competed before this tournament.

“The entire team this year did an excellent job,” Liberty senior and flight instructor Jeff Schlaudt said. “Ten of our fifteen competitors were new to our flight team this year, so to have such a young team and still come out on top speaks volumes about the quality of the team members and about Liberty’s aviation program in general.”

Assistant coach Kevin Lang attributed much of the team’s success to the leadership of team veterans.

“The older team members really stepped up and helped guide the new members,” Lang said. “The majority of our new members placed at Regionals due to the great leadership of the veterans of the team.”

Returner Eric Bell received Liberty’s Outstanding Team Member award for placing first or second in four separate events.

“Eric is a superb pilot and played a key role in our win this year,” Schlaudt said.

The win qualifies Liberty to compete in the 2012 national championship May 14 to 19 hosted by Kansas State University at Salina. Liberty placed 15th at the last two national tournaments. According to Schlaudt, the weather last year “threw us a couple of curve balls,” but the team still placed well.

“This year’s team has the skill and mindset to place in the top ten,” Lang said. “Nevertheless, there are always factors outside of our control (like the weather at Nationals last year) that can always change things … We will be taking it up a notch in our practices so that the only reason we would not do well at Nationals would be factors outside of our control.”

Overall, NIFA team members recognize the importance of the competition to their careers beyond building skills and résumés.

“We realize that the person who is our competition today could end up being our copilot in the cockpit of an airliner a few years from now,” Schlaudt said. “It’s important to establish relationships and begin networking at places like this.”

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