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    October 17, 2022 Huddleston, Va. RSS |

    Racing against a deep and talented field of collegiate triathletes at Smith Mountain Lake State Park in Huddleston, Va., Liberty University’s men’s and women’s teams turned in strong showings at Saturday’s Kinetic Cup, which serves as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Triathlon Championships.

    Giovanni Bianco, a graduate student from Italy, finished fifth in the Olympic Distance race in 1 hour, 56 minutes, 40.3 seconds.

    Seniors Jack Pizor and Hayden Russell came in 14th and 15th, respectively, in 2:05:34.8 and 2:05:47.4, while junior JJ Bagans (19th in 2:07:11.4) and senior Jared Hoober (28th in 2:14:04.2) rounded out the Flames’ top five.

    Bianco emerges from the 750-meter swim in the Draft-Legal Sprint.

    “Many of our student-athletes were doing their first Olympic Distance Triathlon, and it has been really great to see how far many of the athletes have progressed in the past six weeks,” Liberty Head Coach Heather Gollnick said. “Historically, we have many of our new athletes progress into a scoring role by the end of the season,” at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships near Atlanta, where her husband, Assistant Coach Todd Gollnick, will serve as race director.

    In Saturday’s men’s team competition, Queens (N.C.) University was the overall champion, followed by Wingate (N.C.) University, Liberty, and Navy.

    “Queens destroyed everybody,” Bianco said. “They had like six guys in the top 10 and three in the top five.”

    Bianco came out of the water after the 1.5-kilometer swim in 15th place in 20:17 before working his way back toward the front of the pack with his sixth-fastest time in the 40K cycling stage (59:58) and fourth-fastest 10K run time (34:21).

    “The swim kind of put me out of competition, but compared to last year, I ran about a minute faster in the 10K and was almost two minutes better overall,” said Bianco, who is pursuing dual master’s degrees, an M.S. in Human Performance and M.A. in Industrial Organizational Psychology, while completing his internship online as a mental performance coach. “This course is very hard, very windy on the bike and on the run, too, and this morning, it was very cold. When I put my shoes on before starting the run after getting off of the bike, I couldn’t even feel my feet.”

    Temperatures warmed to the mid-70s for the afternoon Draft-Legal Sprints, in which Liberty entered seven men and four women.

    “It almost feels like summer now,” Bianco said before he placed 10th in 57:04.1.

    Drew Thibault, a Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) student, placed 19th in the Draft-Legal Sprint in 1:00:12.1. Bagans and Russell finished 39th and 40th, respectively, in 1:05.54.3 and 1:06.7.

    Liberty women’s triathletes line up for the swim on the Smith Mountain Lake State Park beach.

    On the women’s side, junior Mackenzie Foy paced the Lady Flames with her fourth-place finish in the Olympic Distance race in 2:27:43.9, with sophomores Rebekah Simmons (a former NCAA Division I middle-distance runner for the Lady Flames’ track & field team, 11th in 2:40:22) and Leigh Anne Tannar (12th in 2:40:37.4) and junior Savannah Hughes (17th in 2:54:27.8) following. Foy finished 14th among women in the Draft-Legal Sprint in 1:13:09.9.

    Complete results are available online.

    “I am so proud of this team, not just for their athletic ability and accomplishments but for the way they carry themselves,” Heather Gollnick said. “I love and appreciate the feedback from parents, officials, and spectators alike who often come up to me at competitions and compliment me on our athletes, (saying,) ‘There is something different about your team — the family atmosphere, the professional way they carry themselves, their respectful demeanor.’ Liberty stands out and I love that about this group. They are true witnesses for Christ and carry themselves as such.”

    Rebekah Simmons and Anna Kate Wirsing (removing cap) transition out of the water before starting the cycling stage.

    Prior to Saturday’s races, Heather Gollnick prayed over the Flames and Lady Flames, as well as their parents who came out for the event, held over Liberty’s Homecoming Weekend.

    “This is one of the highlights for us,” she said. “Smith Mountain Lake, because of its proximity, is somewhat of a home race for us. Many parents and alumni joined the group, including senior captain David McCurdy’s parents, who brought a grill and cooked for athletes and parents. We love and appreciate the support of our parents and appreciate many families traveling a good distance to be part of the race and this special day. It was a terrific family atmosphere.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media

    Head Coach Heather Gollnick prays over the team and family members before the Olympic Distance races on Saturday morning. (Photo courtesy of Todd Gollnick)