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    October 18, 2022 Mérida, Mexico RSS |

    The two reigning National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) black belt gold medalists from Liberty University’s taekwondo team, senior Jenna Greene and sophomore Leonardo Chang, qualified with those medals to represent Team USA at Sunday’s through Tuesday’s FISU America Games in Mérida, Mexico, in Yucatan, not far from Cuba.

    There, Greene captured another championship title and Chang a bronze medal on the opening day of the competition.

    “Jenna and Leo are Liberty’s first two residential students to make it into the collegiate field for this tournament and they are officially part of Team USA,” Flames Head Coach Tom Childress said, noting that both student-athletes’ parents were on hand to see them compete, along with Greene’s husband. “Absolutely, they did a really good job, and it was great to see them both become medal winners, representing Liberty. As a coach, I am very proud of them. They are both wonderful athletes, but even better people, and no matter the result, they earned the right to go, and it was great to watch them compete.”

    Greene is surrounded by her parents and husband, Cam Gonino.

    Greene, competing in the female 62-kilogram sparring division, was one of two gold medalists on Sunday from Team USA’s collegiate squad, joining Alena Viana from UC Colorado Springs. Team USA also racked up three silver and three bronze medals, including Chang’s in the male 87-kg sparring category, against the International University Sports Federation (FISU) field that includes competitors from North America, Central America, and South America.

    Greene won her preliminary fight against Mexico’s Andrea Garcia before defeating Brazil’s Peixoto Moras Lara in the championship bout. Chang lost his semifinal round bout to an opponent that was much taller than him in the heavyweight division.

    Leo Chang hugs one of his coaches after dropping his semifinal medal match.

    “Leo’s about 5-feet, 11-inches tall and the guy he lost to was about 6-7 inches taller than him, and that height was too much to overcome,” Childress said. “Height is definitely an advantage in our sport because of your kicking and leg length. There are some ways to overcome that advantage, and Leo was doing really well in trying.”

    Previously, the only Liberty black belt NCTA national champion to earn an invitation to this competition was Jonathan Healy, an online student from Texas who has gone on to vie for Team USA bids to the past two Summer Olympic trials and is a strong contender to make the team for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

    The FISU America Games drew more than 1,400 athletes from 13 countries to compete in sports ranging from archery, basketball, and chess to soccer, swimming, tennis, and volleyball.

    Both Greene and Chang are expected to return to Lynchburg, Va., on Thursday and resume practicing with Liberty’s team on Friday as it prepares for its first ECTC tournament at Cornell University on Sunday, Nov. 6. The following Saturday, the Flames and Lady Flames will host the season’s first Atlantic Collegiate Alliance of Taekwondo (ACAT) tournament, Nov. 12 at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex, where the State Games of America’s taekwondo competition was held in 2019.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer