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    September 22, 2021 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Liberty University’s triathlon team is sending seven men’s and five women’s team members to Malibu, Calif., on Thursday to compete in the 2021 USA Triathlon’s Collegiate National Championships, held in conjunction with the famous Malibu Triathlon on Saturday and Sunday.

    “We are super excited for our athletes to get the opportunity to showcase their talents at Fall Nationals this year in Malibu,” Flames and Lady Flames Head Coach Heather Gollnick said. “Our athletes have put in significant training over the summer and are amped to race. It’s our first Nationals in a couple years so we are eager to compete against the country’s best (collegiate triathletes) in California this weekend.”

    Graduate student Giovanni Bianco emerges from the water after the swim stage of the Sept. 11 Patriots Triathlon Olympic-distance race, which he won.

    Gollnick said the opportunity for her triathletes to race in such a prestigious event after the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships were canceled in April 2020 and postponed this past spring is a tremendous blessing. She said Liberty’s combined 12 triathletes entered could outnumber many of the other colleges and universities represented in the field.

    “We are so thankful we get to travel and that our team is ready to compete,” Gollnick said. “Many teams will not have a full roster or didn’t send a team as they ‘weren’t ready’ with such short notice. It’s a good thing our athletes trained all summer, and I am excited to see how fit they are.”

    The men’s travel roster includes graduate Giovanni Bianco, who was the overall winner at the Olympic-distance race at the Sept. 11 Patriots Triathlon Festival in Jamestown, Va.; as well as graduate Mark Fairley, who won the Draft-Legal race at last spring’s Clermont (Fla.) Challenge; junior David McCurdy, who completed the Ironman 70.3-mile World Championships race held in St. George, Utah, over the weekend; senior Max Galbraith, who was an XTerra Duathlon winner in July 2019 in Maryland and placed third at the USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championships in New Jersey this past May; Jack Pizor, who won a triathlon over the summer near Philadelphia that qualified him for the Ironman 70.3; and fellow sophomores Hayden Russel and Ben Bauserman.

    Junior triathlete David McCurdy competed in Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 race in Utah.

    “Our guys team is looking super strong and we are looking forward to having a really good performance,” said Pizor, who finished runner-up to Bianco and third overall at the Patriots Triathlon. “Having Giovanni back this year, he is going to have a big impact at nationals, as will Mark Fairley. I have had a great opportunity to get to train with them for the past couple months and they have played a big role in my training as mentor figures, giving me advice in training, nutrition, and the mental side of the sport.”

    On the women’s side, the Lady Flames will feature sophomores Mackenzie Foy, Heather DeBoer, and Ally Fernandez, junior Liz Brower, and freshman Leigh Anne Tannar.

    The top four men’s and women’s finishers in Saturday’s Olympic-distance race — which starts with a 1,500-meter Pacific Ocean swim followed by a 40-kilometer out-and-back cycling stage along the Pacific Coast Highway and concluding with a 10K out-and-back run on the sands of Zuma Beach — will count toward Liberty’s team scores.

    “We are expecting a cold swim in the Pacific, which is going to be wetsuit-legal, and a moderately hilly bike course,” Pizor said.

    Triathletes maintained their conditioning through the summer and returned ready to train for nationals.

    The Flames and Lady Flames will also enter two three-man relays and one three-woman relay into Sunday’s sprint event, with each team selecting one swimmer, one cyclist, and one runner to complete the course and their combined finishes also factored into the overall team scores.

    Pizor said the Patriots Triathlon Festival served as a tune-up for this weekend’s Collegiate National Championships as well as the Oct. 16 Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships hosted by Liberty at Smith Mountain Lake, with both also being Olympic-distance events.

    “We put a really big emphasis on the team this year, how we’re better together, and the more we work together, the better we’ll do in the combined team results,” Pizor said. “Coach Heather set up our training really well to allow us to have really good performances here and we think we are going to place really well.”

    In addition to the collegiate national competition, this weekend’s event will also include separate waves for the Super League Triathlon championships attracting some of the highest-level triathletes in the world, and open age-group races.

    “That will be awesome as collegiate athletes to see them perform,” Pizor said. “It’s going to be an awesome weekend and we are looking forward to spending time together as a team, encouraging each other, and having times of devotion where we will sit and get on our knees at the feet of Jesus. Through our actions, we hope people will see something different in our team, that we have the love of Christ in us.”


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Hayden Robertson/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant