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    November 11, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Liberty University’s taekwondo team has one of the largest rosters in its history this season with 37 men and women of all different abilities and belt colors in the mix.

    “More people means more fighting styles, which means as a team we can prepare better for tournaments,” Flames sophomore black belt Ashton Moger said. “This year it’s exciting. Quite a few people coming in from different martial arts experiences, and even quite a few people coming in with no martial arts experience at all, so it’s been really fun to see peoples’ journeys so far. We’re helping people that are brand new and have never done taekwondo before get to train with national champions. We’re seeing a lot of improvement really fast from people and that’s really encouraging, and I think that’s going to set us up for a really good season.”

    Liberty traveled with 28 competitors to Cornell University this past weekend for its first East Coast Triathlon Conference (ECTC) tournament at Cornell (.N.Y.) University, where approximately 400 athletes from more than 20 schools competed.

    “This was the first tournament for all of our freshmen and all of the new team members and they performed very well,” Flames Head Coach Tom Childress said.

    In a best-of-three team format, the Lady Flames’ Women’s A team of senior black belts Reyna Collazo (lightweight) and defending National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) champion Jenna Green (middleweight) and freshman Xena Sawyer (heavyweight) advanced to the championship match and finished runner-up to Northeastern to take home a silver medal. Meanwhile, the Flames’ Men’s A team of Moger (lightweight), freshman Joseph Kim (middleweight), and sophomore defending NCTA champion Leonardo Chang (heavyweight) made it to the semifinals before falling to a trio from West Point (New York) and capturing the bronze.

    Greene and Chang won gold and bronze medals, respectively, at the FISU America Games in Mexico last month.

    Liberty’s Women’s B team competed without a lightweight, but still managed to make it to the semifinals on the strength of sophomore middleweight Sophia Veratti and junior heavyweight Stephanie Yuen, both blue belts, who each won their first three matches before splitting in the semis and settling for bronze.

    As a team the Flames and Lady Flames combined for a first-place finish in the C Division based on their 124-point total.

    “We scored the most points we ever have in an ECTC tournament,” Childress said, noting that Liberty had never before eclipsed 100 points as a team. “The bigger schools such as Northeastern, which scored over 400 points, MIT, and Cornell each had more than 50 athletes and were in the A Division.”

    On Saturday, Liberty will have the opportunity to showcase its talents in an on-campus competition for the first time since before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when it hosts an Atlantic Collegiate Alliance of Taekwondo (ACAT) event at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex, with American, Duke, JMU, the University of Virginia, and UNC Chapel Hill expected to attend as well as non-ACAT programs Clemson and Navy. Competition is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. with forms followed by fighting events.

    “We’re all stoked about having a home (tournament),” Moger said. “We’re ready to go. We haven’t had one in a long time and we’re all just excited to have our colleagues see us compete. We think it’s going to be a great show for people.”

    “Our tournament is going to be really great because that is especially when we bond as a team together,” Collazo added. “I’m so excited because not only do we get to show everyone coming in the love of Christ and the community that we have at our school, I think it’s a great opportunity both for the people that are on the team now and for people who potentially want to join or don’t know what Liberty is about. Everybody has a really good chance of doing really well (and) everyone is excited to learn together and to grow together.”

    She said the culture within the program is competitive but also inclusive and encouraging.

    “Liberty is just like so different from anything that I’ve experienced doing taekwondo because we’re really a family,” Collazo said. “Everyone here has such great connection and chemistry. The newcomers are clicking really well with each other and also with the returners. We’re really just fostering such a good group of people both on the mat and spiritually. Everyone’s kind of at different walks, but we’re all so open with each other and I just really love it.”

    “We don’t want to be just a team,” Childress added. “We want to be a community.”

    He said forming that spiritual foundation here at Liberty will equip all of the student-athletes to be a light to other collegiate programs when they travel to future competitions, including the NCTA Championships in the spring.

    “That’s really a good opportunity for them to go out and meet other people, see other schools, get to talk to them and do what our main mission is, and that is to be missionaries for Christ,” Childress said. “We love competition for the sake of competition, but we also love it because of the experience they are going to get.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Micah Adams/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant