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    January 19, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Fresh snow at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre (LMSC) and at the Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, where they practice on Thursday nights, has added to the excitement level for Liberty University’s ski & snowboard teams as they gear up for this Sunday’s first USCSA competition in nearly two years, a Slopestyle event at Beech Mountain (N.C.) Resort.

    “It’s definitely very exciting for them to be able to get on some natural snow,” Flames Head Coach Isaac Gibson said. “We had our first official practice on snow this past week, and conditions were very favorable. We didn’t travel last year so we are excited to get back on the mountain and competing in the USCSA.”

    He said the Beech Mountain terrain park is comparable to what the team has practiced on throughout the fall semester at Snowflex.

    “They don’t usually have super big jumps, but what the last time we competed there, it was one of our favorite mountains,” Gibson said. “They utilize the space they have well with two sets of boxes and rails with enough space between them to get a good amount of air to put down some pretty good tricks.”

    He said the Flames and Lady Flames will bring a team of 24 student-athletes — seven men’s and women’s snowboarders, six men’s skiers and four women’s skiers — giving them the deepest travel roster in program history.

    Lady Flames two-time USCSA national champion snowboarder Coleen Leja.

    “Our female snowboard team is bigger than ever before, though some of those athletes are newer to the freestyle events,” Gibson said, noting that some of the strongest are seniors Coleen Leja, a two-time national champion in 2020, Samantha Pesile, and Orlando Emory. “It’s been two years, so they are very excited to get back out there. They have made a lot of progress since then and coming out stronger than before.”

    Liberty features a good mix of veterans and newcomers on this year’s team with graduate skier Eli Haita and senior snowboarder Tyler Sherbine serving as captains.

    “We have a few that have been on the team years before, but have never been able to travel,” Gibson said.

    On the men’s side, a new skier to watch is Robert Bynam, a second-year graduate student who played four years on the men’s soccer team.

    “He grew up in Colorado and is very excited to get on the hill,” Gibson said. “He has been an extremely competitive athlete and has been part of our team for two years now and built great relationships. With Luke and Eli and John Hunt, one of the assistant coaches and former skiers, they will be able to take Bobby under their wing when it comes to nationals.”

    They will have many opportunities to showcase their skills in competition this spring with a Rail Jam and Boardercross and Skiercross set for Feb. 5-6 at Bryce Mountain, a Snowflex Big Air and Rail Jam over College For A Weekend (CFAW) from Feb. 19-20 at LMSC, followed by the USCSA East Coast Regional Championships Feb. 26-27 at Wintergreen and the USCSA National Championships at Lake Placid (N.Y.) in early March.

    “In the last few years, it’s gotten more competitive, and due to an increase in athletes, you now have to qualify  n most divisions,” Gibson said, noting the Flames and Lady Flames hope to qualify six in all but the women’s ski competition with the top five scores counting.

    Liberty last competed at USCSA nationals in 2020, also at Lake Placid, where the last day of competition was canceled due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Our skiers were disappointed that they didn’t get to do their slopestyle event and Eli (Haita) and (junior) Luke (Linker) are very excited to get out and compete (at Beech Mountain),” Gibson said. “Both feel like that’s their strongest event and they are fired up and ready to see what they can do this year.”

    The Flames and Lady Flames will also have travel practice weekends at Loon Mountain (N.H.) Resort, which has one of the top three terrain parks on the East Coast, on Jan. 29-30, and Seven Springs (Pa.) on Feb. 12-13.

    “Basically, any weekend that we’re not competing, we’re traveling to do some practice trips on snow at mountains that will have bigger jumps and courses like those we’ll see at the national event,” Gibson said.


    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer