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    March 30, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Though it hasn’t competed in an intercollegiate tournament in more than two years, Liberty University’s men’s and women’s taekwondo team will send 10 of its student-athletes to this weekend’s National Collegiate Taekwondo Association (NCTA) Championships hosted by Kwon’s Martial Arts Center in Marlborough, Mass., just outside of Boston.

    “Technically, the NCTA had a national competition in 2021, but it was only in forms and it was online, so this is the first in-person national event since 2019,” Head Coach Tom Childress said. “Fighting is definitely our strong suit, though we have come a long way in forms from when we started competing in collegiate nationals. Our bread and butter is definitely in the ring.

    “Ever since 2020, when (COVID-19) shut everything down after the ECTC competition at Princeton, we have trained and have gone forward with the ideology that as soon as they open things up, we’re going to be ready,” he added. “We’re looking forward to it.”

    The team will leave Thursday at 5 a.m. on the 11-hour trip for those members competing in forms to be rested for Friday’s event before color belt fighting takes place on Saturday and black belt fighting on Sunday.

    Because there were no qualifying tournaments held this year, the national field will be open to all full-time collegiate student-athletes who are academically eligible USA Taekwondo-registered members who have passed their safe-sport training.

    There could be more blackbelts than usual at this weekend’s nationals since the eight weight class champions will be awarded autobids to this summer’s Collegiate World Championships.

    The only member of the team with collegiate experience, junior captain Phillip Muddiman, will travel with the team but won’t be able to compete after suffering a stress fracture in his right leg during practice last week.

    “Originally, we were going to have five black belts and five color belts competing at nationals,” Childress said.

    The four blackbelts who will represent the Flames and Lady Flames are junior Jenna Greene, the other team captain, in the women’s lightweight division, freshman Ashton Moger in men’s featherweight, freshman Leonardo Chang in men’s middleweight, and junior Rena Collazo in women’s finnweight.

    Sophomore Katherine Rioux will compete in women’s heavyweight yellow belt; freshman Noah Butcher will fight in men’s light/middleweight yellow belt; sophomore Chyanne Armes will spar in women’s finnweight green belt; sophomore Stephanie Yeun will enter the women’s heavyweight blue belt division; and junior Sophia Adams will vie for a women’s lightweight yellow belt title.

    “We have a very young, inexperienced team,” Childress said. “We’re going into this with the idea that it’s a great experience for everyone and it’s an experience builder, something they can take with them into next year when competitions will be more open and teams will be able to compete more like they did pre-COVID.”

    He said not having a regular-season competition or even a firm date on nationals has made it challenging to prepare for this weekend.

    “You want your athletes to be in peak condition for nationals without overtraining them,” Childress said. “They’re going to be going from 0 to 100, especially the black belts. To be ready for three two-minute rounds of fighting multiple times per day, to be safe in the ring and be prepared to fight all those extra rounds, you’ve got to be on your game.”

    He said his athletes, though inexperienced, are pound-for-pound some of the most competitive he has coached. While Northeast powerhouse programs such as New York University, MIT, Cornell, Brown, and Rutgers may be among the favorites in the team competition, Childress is confident that, win or lose, his athletes will leave everything out on the mat and showcase excellent sportsmanship.

    “We feel strongly about all of our competitors,” Childress said. “I go off the coaching philosophy that you can’t control the outcome of the match, because there is a human element (in officiating). The bottom line, what we talk about day-in and day-out, is that it’s not the result that matters. You step in the ring, do your very best, and accept the results. The journey is the main thing.”

    More importantly than contending for individual medals, the team is focused on winning souls.

    “At the end of the day, we want to have a good time competing, and let our kids meet kids from other schools,” Childress said. “But our most important mission, being a Christian university, is being that beacon of Christ, and to have a chance to testify and talk to people about Jesus. We love that responsibility and look forward to that.”

    He said that has been the greatest loss of purpose the team has dealt with through the pandemic.

    “As much as we’ve missed the competition, we’ve missed that mission for two years now,” Childress said. “It’s not only great as a coach to see that in-person competition again, but to see that the motto of Training Champions for Christ is so much more than verbiage. We get to go out there not only as competitors, but as Christian competitors. It gives us a platform to talk to people and spread the Gospel and when those opportunities arise, we definitely relish them.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video edited by Kylee Ligle/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant