Racing to the finish

Track and field teams hope indoor success translates as they head outdoors

The Liberty Flames outdoor track teams look to continue their recent success on the track in the 2015 outdoor season.

Last year, the Flames raced by the competition, securing the Big South men’s Triple Crown for the eighth year running. The Flames claimed their ninth consecutive cross country title, 17th straight indoor track championship and eighth outdoor track and field title in a row.

Heave — Redshirt senior Tim Abbott placed 10th in the men’s  invitational discus throw during the Raleigh Relays last weekend. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

Heave — Redshirt senior Tim Abbott placed 10th in the men’s
invitational discus throw during the Raleigh Relays last weekend. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

The Lady Flames came in second at the Big South championships in women’s cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. Their best performance came at the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships. They posted a third-place finish, the best placing in
school history.

Head Coach Brant Tolsma, the most highly decorated and longest-tenured head coach in Liberty Athletics history, leads a young team into this season, with 74 underclassmen to only 44 upperclassmen.

Tolsma believes every person on each team has a specific role, and each person must fulfill that role for the team to succeed.

“We have a lot of good leaders on our team now,” Tolsma said. “We have a lot of veterans, upperclassmen who have bought into the mission and are getting a good understanding of what it means to compete as a surrendered Christian athlete, and then we also have a lot of people who are in the learning process, but they seem to have good attitudes.”

Tolsma said the outdoor teams’ mission is to become a unit before they start competing for championships.

“Our goal … is to come together as a team before we get into our championships so that people are motivated not just by selfish desires, but motivated by the bond that they have on the team,” Tolsma said.

That bond on the two teams is strong, according to sophomore sprinter Stephen Racanelli, the 2015 Big South 200-meter and 400-meter indoor champion.

“Being a team with this group is more like a family,” Racanelli said. “We call it a family instead of a team, because we really do talk to each other about everything, and we work together on the track, off the track (and) have fun on and off the track as well.”

Senior cross country runner Jacy Christiansen, the fall 2014 Big South champion long distance runner, also said the teams are close.

“Everyone is so different,” Christiansen said. “But we all come together to get the job done, just like all the parts of the body of Christ, or all the parts of the human body.”

As for this current season, Tolsma said the teams have failed if they are only successful on the track.

“In the short term, our big focus is on trying to reach the athletic level of potential that they are blessed with,” Tolsma said. “But in the long term, we’re trying to impact them to gain an increased understanding of what it means to be surrendered to Christ and to use (their) abilities to honor him.”

Tolsma said he expects to have a successful season, emphasizing the Flames and Lady Flames throwers.

“Probably our best athletes from the national level this year are from the throws,” Tolsma said. “Coach (Clendon) Henderson has got a good throw crew going for him.”
In the first meets of the outdoor season, the men and women throwers have fared well.

In the Coastal Carolina Invitational, the teams’ first meet of the outdoor season, the Flames throwers racked up three event victories, while the Lady Flames brought home two throwing wins.

Senior Steve Feister won the javelin throw, and redshirt junior Fred Fulton came out on top in the shotput and discus.

On the women’s side of the meet, redshirt junior Mychelle Cumings also took home wins in the shotput and discus.

The Flames throwers continued their success in the next meet, the Virginia Cup, helping to seal the men’s third consecutive Virginia Cup title. Feister repeated as javelin champion, and Fulton got the win in the hammer throw.

Cumings won the discus for the Lady Flames, while senior Jennifer Smith posted a hammer throw win.

Liberty’s teams have also enjoyed success in other field events.

At the Coastal Carolina Invitational, junior Alexandru Barker brought home a victory in the pole vault for the Flames.

In the Virginia Cup, the Flames captured four more field event titles, courtesy of junior Ken Ritchey in the pole vault, senior Kyle Wheeler in the high jump and sophomore Aklesso Agama in the long and triple jumps.

Redshirt sophomore Dana Mercer leaped to a win for the Lady Flames in the long jump during the Virginia Cup.

As the Flames and Lady Flames near the halfway mark in the outdoor season, they hope to continue to come out on top in the racing events.

In the two meets previously mentioned, the men and women have combined for five total wins on the track.

According to Christiansen, after getting out to a good start in the outdoor season, the teams just need to repeat what they have been doing. If they do that, they believe they will heighten their chances for another title run.

Liberty’s track and field teams will now spend the weekend at home when they compete in the Liberty Collegiate Invitational at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4. Friday’s events begin at 1 p.m., and Saturday’s events will start at 9:30 a.m.

DILlARD is a sports reporter.

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