Leja leads 1-2-3 women’s snowboarding sweep at USCSA opener; men’s skiers also land atop podium
Liberty University’s men’s ski and women’s snowboard teams dominated Sunday’s USCSA season-opening Slopestyle competition at Beech Mountain (N.C.) Resort, led by first-place finishes from two-time national champion Coleen Leja and junior Luke Linker, respectively.
The Flames’ snowboard team and Lady Flames’ ski team, meanwhile, finished runner-up in close competitions with Lees-McRae College and UNC Chapel Hill, respectively.
A total of 10 teams from the Southeast Conference competed, including Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Western Carolina, Appalachian State, and JMU.
“Overall, it was a very great weekend and start to the year,” Liberty Head Coach Isaac Gibson said. “The was a good amount of competition and the snow quality was great for Slopestyle riding. It was awesome to compete (again) and the team had a ton of fun. It was a great season-opener to get our feet underneath us and get started on the right foot and we are extremely fired up for our next competition,” a Rail Jam and Boardercross/Skiercross set for Feb. 5-6 at Bryce Mountain.
“Coleen put down a safer first run, which gave her the freedom to go all out on her second, when she was able to put down an even higher score,” Gibson said. “She landed a front-side 270 onto the jump and 270 off and landed it on a flat bar rail.”
She finished ahead of fellow senior Emory Orlando (50) and Emmaus Rich (36), who placed third in her first competition.
“Emmaus was very nervous before her first contest, but calmed herself down and was able to come out and put down a really good, clean run,” Gibson said. “We are definitely looking forward to seeing her grow throughout the rest of the season.”
As a team, the Lady Flames’ 1-2-3 finish totaled 6 points to distance themselves from Virginia (24) and Appalachian State (30).
Liberty’s men’s skiers placed three in the top four and five in the top 10, paced by Linker’s best point total of 78.0 on his first run. Graduate Roberty Bynum placed third with a best first run of 67.67, followed by sophomore Coby Liebelt (fourth, 60), senior Elijah Haita (sixth, 50.33), and freshman Charlie Barkow (10th, 29.67).
The Flames totaled 8 points to place well in front of Western Carolina (31) and UNC (38) in the team competition.
“Our guys all did pretty well and had solid runs,” Haita said. “Luke’s and Robert’s runs definitely seemed like the smoothest and they were hitting the features cleanest with the biggest tricks. Personally, I didn’t land all of the tricks I wanted to, but I am very excited for the future of this team and am very happy with their first performances.”
Controversy in the men’s snowboard competition relegated the Flames to a second-place team finish behind LMC, and prevented Liberty from sweeping first place in all four events.
Senior Tyler Sherbine’s 85-point first run was disqualified due to a new USCSA rule disallowing inverted flips, and he fell on his second, placing out of the top 10. Gibson contested that Sherbine’s corkscrew trick was not fully inverted and should have been allowed.
“It would have been a clean sweep for us,” Gibson said. “Even still, we know Tyler had the best run of the contest, and we took second and third,” with Ian Rosario (53.33) and sophomore Andrew Smith (52.67), a first-year travel team competitor. “Ian was able to land a clean rail run and he was actually the only male snowboarder in the contest to successfully complete the two different jumps, one of which was quite a bit bigger, landing a backside 360 that sealed (second place).”
The Flames were without junior Jesse Mast, who broke his collarbone riding with Sherbine and former snowboarder Milo Rice in Minnesota over Christmas Break. They totaled 18 points to finish five points out of first place and ahead of third-place Appalachian State (25).
In the women’s skiing competition, Meghan Weigner was the overall winner with a top first-run average of 43.33, leading the Lady Flames (14 points) to a second-place finish to UNC (11).
At Bryce Mountain, the Flames and Lady Flames will likely fare best in the Rail Jams, based on their practice experience out of the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, but will enjoy competing in the skiercross and boardercross events.
“Those are a cross between freestyle and racing,” Haita said. “It will be a fun course with lots of turns and jumps, and the goal is to go as fast as you can.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer