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Liberty Kickoff to Open Flames' 2017 Indoor Season

January 18, 2017  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty Kickoff will be the first collegiate meet ever contested at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.
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Liberty Indoor Track Complex

This weekend's 12th Liberty Kickoff is appropriately named, as it will open Liberty's 2017 indoor track & field season and serve as the first collegiate meet ever contested at the state-of-the-art Liberty Indoor Track Complex.

The meet, which will feature more than 1,000 athletes from 35 colleges and universities, is set to begin Friday at 1:15 p.m. with the heptathlon 60-meter dash. Saturday's events will commence with the men's weight throw at 9 a.m. Admission is free to all spectators.

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live results will be available during both days of competition, by clicking the appropriate links on the Liberty track & field schedule/results page.

Scouting the Competition
Liberty will square off against Big South Conference foes Campbell, Gardner-Webb, High Point, UNC Asheville and Winthrop this weekend. Other NCAA Division I entrants include Bethune-Cookman, Coppin State, George Mason, Hampton, Norfolk State, Richmond, Savannah State, South Carolina State and VMI.

Many events will feature a large number of competitors, led by the 200-meter dash. The one-lap event is scheduled to include 163 men's entrants and 161 women's sprinters.

About the Facility
The 169,000-square-foot Liberty Indoor Track Complex is highlighted by a six-lane, 200-meter, hydraulically banked oval. The facility, which includes permanent seating for approximately 1,500 spectators, also boasts ample space for athletes. Competitors are availed a sizeable mezzanine area which sits above an eight-lane, 100-meter warm-up straightaway.

Other amenities in the facility include a 6,000-square-foot weight room, a 3,000-square-foot training room and underwater treadmill, a coaches' hospitality room with windows that overlook the track, a concessions area, a press box, a scoreboard with live results and videoboard showing instant replays, ample restrooms, locker rooms and office space.

The Liberty Indoor Track Complex opened to rave reviews and record-setting performances at the VA Showcase meet, Jan. 13-14. The competition attracted 3,200 high school athletes, including a team from Jamaica, and national high school records fell in the girls' distance medley relay and boys' 300-meter dash.

The official Grand Opening of the Liberty Indoor Track Complex will take place on Jan. 28 at 10:30 a.m., during the Darius Dixon Memorial Invitational. The ceremony will feature comments from Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty Director of Athletics Ian McCaw and Liberty Track & Field Head Coach Brant Tolsma along with a ribbon cutting.

The Liberty Indoor Track Complex is located beneath the LU monogram off of Candlers Mountain Road. The road leading back to the facility may be found directly across the street from the Fairfield Inn & Suites. The hotel's address is 3777 Candlers Mountain Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502.

Liberty Kickoff History
This weekend's meet will be the 12th edition of the Liberty Kickoff, the Flames' longest-running home indoor track & field competition. The event will take place in January for just the second time, with the first being the inaugural Liberty Kickoff, Jan. 28-29, 2005. That meet was the first to be contested at the Tolsma Indoor Track Center.

The list of meet record holders includes two of Liberty's three track & field/cross country NCAA Division I national champions, Heather (Sagan) Zealand (meet record holder in the women's mile and 3K) and Josh McDougal (meet record holder in the men's 3K and 5K). It also features a current NFL player in Miami Dolphins safety Walt Aikens. The Liberty alumnus tied the men's long jump meet record with a leap of 24-2.5 at the 2013 Liberty Kickoff.

Great Expectations
Liberty was picked to sweep the men's and women's titles at the 2017 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships, as voted upon by the league's head coaches.

Head Coach Brant Tolsma's men's squad has captured all 19 team titles in the history of the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships, marking the longest active conference championship streak in NCAA Division I men's indoor track & field.

On the women's side, Liberty is a unanimous choice to defend its 2016 Big South title, earning all eight first-place votes and 64 points. Last season, the Lady Flames won their first Big South indoor team championship since 2012 and 11th title overall at this meet.

The 2017 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships will take place at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, N.C., Feb. 25-26.

Looking ahead, the 2018 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships are scheduled to be held at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.

Big South's Best
Liberty returns six athletes who captured individual event titles at the 2016 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships, all of whom will be in action this weekend.

On the men's side, the Flames' defending conference champions include Ryan Davis (60 hurdles), Zach Gilroy (heptathlon), Darrel Jones (triple jump), Stephen Racanelli (200 and 400) and Michael Todd (800). Meanwhile, Delaney McDowell (800) is the lone returning Big South titlist from 2016 among the Lady Flames.

Their entries this weekend include the following individual events:
Ryan Davis – 500, 60 hurdles
Zach Gilroy – Heptathlon
Darrel Jones – 60, triple jump
Stephen Racanelli – 400
Michael Todd – Mile
Delaney McDowell – 1,000

Fresh Faces
A total of 20 athletes are slated to make their Liberty track & field debuts at the Liberty Kickoff.

Men's athletes competing in a Liberty uniform for the first time will be Markus Ballengee (heptathlon), Jahquez Durham (60, 200), Hudson Hall (pole vault), Stanley Langat (mile), Samson Moore (60, 500, 60 hurdles) and Andre Wright (60, triple jump).

Lady Flames making their debut include Katie Dodson (60, 60 hurdles), Tanner Ealum (60, 400), Nicole Gignac (pentathlon), Maria Gonchar (1,000), Sierra Guarino (60, long jump), Elizabeth Hutton (1,000), Ayanna Johnson (60, long jump), Jaiden Mulder (60, 60 hurdles), Leah Plummer (60), Brittany Small (high jump), Brooke Turner (1,000), Anna Van Wyk (mile), Valerie Wierenga (3K) and Samantha Yamasaki (60).

Fresh Faces, Part 2
Both Shawn Venable and Dr. Tim Sykes will make their Liberty coaching debuts this weekend.

Venable, who was previously an assistant at Oral Roberts, began working on the Flames' staff in August. He primarily coaches the jumpers and hurdlers.

Meanwhile, Sykes is the team's newest addition, with his first official day on staff coming on Jan. 3. Sykes, who will coach the Flames' men's distance runners, comes to Liberty from Ohio University.

Making the Connection
Liberty freshman Markus Ballengee competed in the final meet at the Tolsma Indoor Track Center, the VHSL 3A/4A Indoor Track & Field Championships, Feb. 28, 2016. Then a senior at Staunton River High School, Ballengee placed first in the 3A high jump, second in the 55 hurdles, fourth in the long jump, fourth in the triple jump and sixth in the 4 x 200 relay.

On Friday, Ballengee will be one of the first collegiate athletes to compete at Liberty's new facility, the Liberty Indoor Track Complex. The Liberty freshman will take part in his first career heptathlon, with the first of his seven events (60-meter dash) scheduled to open the meet, Friday at 1:15 p.m.

Looking Ahead
Liberty will host a total of three meets at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex this season, also including the third annual Darius Dixon Memorial Invitational (Jan. 27-28) and the inaugural Liberty Elite Invitational (Feb. 10-11).