Alejandro Perlaza Zapata placed fifth in Friday's NCAA men's 400 dash final. (Photo by Pat Holleran)
Liberty senior Alejandro Perlaza Zapata punctuated his collegiate career with a fifth-place finish in the men's 400 final with a season-best 45.02 clocking, headlining the Flames' Friday at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships before a crowd of 11,037 at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
Perlaza Zapata's effort, combined with classmate Azaria Kirwa's eighth-place showing in Wednesday's men's 10K final, added up to five team points for the Flames. As a result, Liberty tied for 40th place with Iowa, Minnesota, Saint Francis (Pa.) and Utah State in the men's team standings. It marked the Flames' highest team placement at this meet since a program-best tie for 12th place in 2011.
Texas Tech racked up 60 points to claim its first team national title in program history, while Florida's 50 points gave the Gators their eighth straight top-two finish at this meet.
Perlaza Zapata's performance garnered first-team All-America honors, making the Colombia native Liberty's fourth All-American this week. Kirwa (first team All-American in men's 10K), Felix Kandie (second team All-American in men's steeplechase) and Denzel Pratt (second team All-American in men's javelin) previously earned All-America recognition on Wednesday. Prior to this meet, Liberty's program record for most All-Americans at a single NCAA Division I track & field championship event had been two.
Competing in just the fourth NCAA men's 400 final ever to feature four sub-45.00 runners, Perlaza Zapata's 45.02 clocking marked the fastest fifth-place time in meet history. It also ranks No. 14 in the world this year.
Perlaza Zapata, who had placed a disappointing 23rd in the 400 at this meet a year ago, became the first Liberty men's athlete to record a top-five finish at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships since Kolby Shepherd shared fifth place in the men's pole vault in 2012. He is the Flames' first men's 400 All-American at this meet since Liberty Athletics Hall of Famer Mike Decker in 2000.
Perlaza Zapata picked up his second first team All-America certificate of 2019, to go along with his sixth-place finish in the men's 400 at the 2019 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships in March.
Perlaza Zapata saw his six-race 400-meter dash winning streak snapped on Friday. However, he continued an impressive streak of improvement in the one-lap event, which began with his 46.19 effort at the May 1 Liberty Twilight Qualifier. Since then, the 2016 Olympian has dropped his 400 time to 45.56, 45.45, 45.19, 45.12 and Friday's 45.02 in his five successive races. The only time Perlaza Zapata has ever run faster than he did on Friday was his Liberty and Colombian-record 44.86 clocking in the 2018 Big South Championship men's 400 final.
Perlaza Zapata will now trade his Liberty uniform for a Colombia jersey. He plans to represent his home country at the Pan American Games, slated for July 26 through August 11 in Lima, Peru.
Kirwa led for a portion of the men's 5K final on a hot, sticky night for a distance race before ending up 19th with a 14:27.38 clocking. It marked an improvement upon Kirwa's 22nd-place effort in the 5K at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Like Perlaza Zapata, Kirwa will depart Liberty as a two-time All-American. The Eldoret, Kenya native's honors came in the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and in Wednesday's men's 10K final, where he placed eighth.
Final Men's Team Scores 1) Texas Tech – 60 2) Florida – 50 3) Houston – 40 4) Georgia – 32.5 5) Stanford – 32 40T) Liberty – 5
Men's All-Americans Alejandro Perlaza Zapata – 400 – 1st Team (5th place, 45.02)
Up Next The 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships will conclude on Saturday. Sophomore Chelsea Igberaese will be the lone Lady Flame in action on the meet's final day, competing in the women's discus at 6:05 p.m. Eastern on ESPN3.