One of the most storied coaching careers in Liberty Athletics and collegiate track & field history will come to an end later this year with Brant Tolsma announcing his retirement plans.
Following Liberty sweeping both the men's and women's titles at the 2020 ASUN Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex on Saturday, Tolsma announced to his team that he would be stepping down from his position.
Tolsma plans to remain as the head of the program as the Director of Track & Field and Cross Country through conclusion the outdoor track & field season.
Liberty Athletics will honor Tolsma later this spring, welcoming back alumni and supporters of the program to celebrate Tolsma's outstanding career. Plans for the celebration event will be announced at a later time.
Tolsma has been at the helm of Liberty's cross country and track & field programs for 34 seasons, guiding Liberty's teams to an astonishing 116 conference championships and coaching six NCAA Division I individual national champions.
Tolsma has won a total of 71 Big South Coach of the Year honors, six ASUN Coach of the Year recognitions and twice was named the NCAA District Coach of the Year. Meanwhile, Tolsma's athletes have earned a combined 61 All-America honors since the program moved to the NCAA Division I level in 1989.
Tolsma was first hired at Liberty in 1986 by the Flames' first track & field coach, Liberty Athletics Hall of Famer Jake Matthes, to serve as the head men's track & field coach. By 1991, Tolsma had assumed each of the coaching positions he still holds today, overseeing the men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track & field and men's and women's outdoor track & field programs.
Tolsma, who at the present time primarily coaches the Flames' decathletes, heptathletes and pole vaulters, celebrated his 100th conference championship at Liberty when the women's cross country team won the 2016 Big South title. Under Tolsma's guidance, Liberty's cross country and track & field squads have now won 98 Big South championships, seven Mason-Dixon championships, six ASUN championships, three IC4A team titles and two ECAC crowns, for a total of 116 conference titles.
The summer of 2018 was an exciting one for Tolsma, who was chosen as the head coach of the USA Team for the inaugural FISU America Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Tolsma guided Liberty to eight consecutive Big South men's Triple Crowns, as the Flames swept every conference men's cross country, men's indoor track & field and men's outdoor track & field title between fall 2006 and spring 2014. Tolsma and legendary Kansas head coach Bill Easton (1951-59, Big 8 Conference) are the only two coaches ever to lead their teams to eight straight men's Triple Crowns in an NCAA Division I conference.
The 2009-10 athletic year was one of the finest in program history, highlighted by the Big South Conference's first-ever "Double Triple." The unique achievement, which has only been accomplished by 10 different schools in NCAA Division I history, saw the Flames and Lady Flames sweep all six Big South titles (men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field and women's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field). Liberty nearly repeated the feat in 2016-17, but fell seven points short in men's cross country.
Individually, Sam Chelanga closed his career in 2011 with a total of four NCAA national titles, including two apiece in cross country and outdoor track & field. Additionally, Heather (Sagan) Zealand won the mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and Josh McDougal was the national champion at the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Tolsma has been at the helm for each of the Flames' six individual national titles.
Chelanga's performance at the 2011 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which included a 5K national championship and a runner-up finish in the 10K, helped Liberty tie for 12th place in the final men's team standings. That is the highest NCAA Division I team finish in program and Big South Conference history in either cross country or track & field.
Tolsma's student-athletes have also excelled in the classroom during his tenure at Liberty. Twelve Liberty cross country/track & field student-athletes have earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors at the Division I level under his guidance, with the most recent being Kat Bouton in 2017.
Tolsma's track coaching career began at Campbell in Buies Creek, N.C., where he served as the head men's cross country and track & field coach for seven years (1979-86). He then took the helm of the Camels' women's cross country and track & field programs when those sports were inaugurated in 1982-83.
Tolsma completed his undergraduate work with summa cum laude distinction in 1971 at Newark College of Engineering, since renamed New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). He went on to earn a master's degree in hydraulic engineering from Michigan in 1973 and a Ph.D. in the biomechanics of sport from Indiana in 1979. Tolsma's doctoral dissertation was entitled "Leg Dynamics of Maximum Speed Sprinting."
Tolsma has published several articles about track & field training and in 2001 released a book, The Surrendered Christian Athlete, which expounds the role of the Christian faith in athletics. He has also designed several athletic training devices.
Tolsma has been active as a master's track & field competitor for two decades. He won his age group in the World Double Decathlon Championship in both 2005 and 2010, as well as the Masters National Decathlon Championship in both 1993 and 2003. He placed second at the World Veterans Games decathlon in 1995 and at the 2002 World Double-Decathlon Championship in Finland.
During September 2010 at the Matthes-Hopkins Track Complex, Tolsma set the world record for men aged 60 and over in the double decathlon, a two-day, 20-event competition which includes all of the track & field disciplines. In October 2007, Tolsma broke his age group's world record for the one-day double decathlon. Tolsma also set an age group (55-60) world record for the double heptathlon in December 2008, while competing at Liberty's former indoor track & field facility bearing his name (Tolsma Indoor Track Center).
The former president of the International Association of Ultra Multi-events, Tolsma has raced nearly every competitive distance from 50 meters to 50 miles. The latter he did to celebrate reaching age 50.
Tolsma enjoys a number of sports and fitness activities, especially water-skiing. Nancy, his wife of 44 years, is the mother of his six children: Michelle, who is married to former Liberty tennis player Matthew Schley; Rachel Parker; Brenda, who is married to current Liberty associate head track & field coach Clendon Henderson; Regina Hurst; Joey and Tami Acree, a four-year member of the Liberty women's track & field team who graduated in May 2012. Tolsma also has 16 grandchildren.
"The last 34 years have been an amazing run. When I came to Liberty, we did not even have an outdoor track, much less the amazing outdoor and indoor facilities we have today. The Lord has blessed this program so much through the years. During those 34 years, I never applied for another job because I never saw Liberty as a stepping stone – I saw Liberty as an escalator and I've just been on those stairs, riding up through the years. The opportunity I've had to interact with student-athletes, pointing them in the direction of the truth and sharing my heart with them, has been a privilege. I'm not going to be leaving Liberty, but I will not be working here 60 hours a week. I'll be the program's No. 1 fan and I'm excited to see what the Lord has in store for this program in the future." Brant Tolsma, Liberty's Director of Track & Field and Cross Country
"Our track and field program has long been one of the hallmarks of excellence within Liberty Athletics—not only competing at a high level within collegiate athletics, but through Coach Tolsma's influence with so many coaches and student-athletes over the past 34 years," said Director of Athletics Ian McCaw. "His astounding number of conference championships and coach of the year awards is unprecedented and will never be matched. We look forward to celebrating Coach Tolsma's brilliant career with his team, former student-athletes and family during the spring." Ian McCaw, Liberty University Director of Athletics
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