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Kirwa, Perlaza Zapata Lead Way on NCAA Opening Day

June 5, 2019  Austin, Texas  RSS
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Azaria Kirwa placed 8th in the NCAA men's 10K final on Wednesday. (Photo by Kim Spir)

Azaria Kirwa placed 8th in the NCAA men's 10K final on Wednesday. (Photo by Kim Spir)

Liberty seniors Azaria Kirwa and Alejandro Perlaza Zapata led the way for the Flames on a steamy opening day of the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Wednesday at Mike A. Myers Stadium. Kirwa placed eighth in the men's 10K final, while Perlaza Zapata won his heat of the men's 400 semifinals, advancing to Friday's national final.

Kirwa's gutsy 10K effort earned a team point for the Flames, who are tied for 31st place with Akron and Washington through six of 21 men's events. Mississippi State owns the early lead on the strength of 24 points from the javelin, while second-place BYU picked up 21 points in the 10K.

Kirwa was one of three Flames to collect All-America honors on Wednesday, along with second team All-Americans Denzel Pratt (men's javelin) and Felix Kandie (men's steeplechase). This is the first time three Liberty athletes have ever earned All-America distinction at a single NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Kirwa made his presence known in his 10K national debut, following agonizing 13th-place finishes at the 2017 and 2018 NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meets. He led for a number of laps before ending up in the eighth and final scoring position with a 29:30.88 clocking.

A native of Eldoret, Kenya, Kirwa was one of only two NCAA East Region runners to finish within the men's 10K's top 10 on Wednesday. He picks up his first All-America notation on the track, to go along with an All-America honor from the 2017 cross country season. Kirwa is the Flames' first All-American in the 25-lap event since Sam Chelanga in 2011. All five times a Liberty runner has appeared in the NCAA Division I men's 10K final, he has come away with a top-eight finish and team points.

Perlaza Zapata won the first of Wednesday's three men's 400 semifinals with a season-best time of 45.12, automatically qualifying to Friday's final. His clocking was the third fastest overall among the three heats, trailing only Houston's Kahmari Montgomery (44.80) and North Carolina A&T's Trevor Stewart (44.84).

Perlaza Zapata will become the Flames' first-ever competitor in the NCAA Division I outdoor men's 400 final, Friday at 9:32 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The senior from Colombia previously placed sixth in the event at the 2019 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships in March.

Making his second consecutive NCAA national appearance in the men's javelin, Pratt uncorked a 221-1 effort on his first attempt. That mark stood up for 14th place, the best-ever finish by a Liberty men's javelin thrower at this meet.

Pratt earned a spot on the second team All-America squad, garnering his first All-America certificate during the senior's final collegiate competition. The Bahamas' national record holder, Pratt became the Flames' first NCAA Division I All-American in the event in program history.

Kandie ran near the front for a majority of his men's 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinal, the sophomore's fourth career attempt at the event. However, he ended up in sixth place in the heat and 13th overall with an 8:56.20 clocking, leaving Kandie one spot and less than two seconds away from qualifying to Friday's final.

Kandie's performance earned him second team All-America recognition, making him the Flames' first-ever NCAA Division I All-American in the men's steeplechase.

Men's Team Scores (Through 6 of 21 Events)
1) Mississippi State – 24
2) BYU – 21
3) LSU – 18
4) Georgia – 12
5) Kansas – 11
31T) Liberty – 1

Men's All-Americans
Azaria Kirwa – 10K – 1st Team (8th place, 29:30.88)
Felix Kandie – 3,000 Steeplechase – 2nd Team (13th place, 8:56.20)
Denzel Pratt – Javelin – 2nd Team (14th place, 221-1)

Men's Athletes Advancing to Friday's Finals
Alejandro Perlaza Zapata – 400 – 45.12

Up Next
The women's portion of the meet will begin on Thursday. The Lady Flames' lone event of the day will be the 4 x 400 relay semifinals, slated for 11:18 p.m. Eastern, live on ESPN2.