Mia Aghaji has won Big South titles in the women's high jump and triple jump and also owns a long jump personal best of 18-10.
The Liberty Kickoff (Dec. 2-3) will begin two weeks from today inside the Tolsma Indoor Track Center, officially opening the 2011-12 indoor track & field season. Today's article begins a breakdown of the Liberty men's and women's rosters with the jumping events.
Men's Jumps The jumping events were an area of strength for the Liberty men's track & field team a year ago, as the Flames won Big South titles in the indoor and outdoor triple jump and outdoor pole vault. Although many of the faces have changed, head coach Brant Tolsma expects good things from the jumps once again in 2011-12.
"Despite the loss of several jumpers, we should be solid this year. We should definitely hold our own in all four jumps."
Redshirt senior Kolby Shepherd is the Flames' headliner in this area, returning after a spectacular 2010-11 season in the pole vault. The year was capped off with his first trip to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where Shepherd tied for 20th place.
A former walk-on, Shepherd also won the Big South outdoor pole vault title (the fifth Big South pole vault championship of his career) and captured runner-up honors at the IC4A outdoor meet. Shepherd tied a long-standing program record by vaulting 17-6.5 at the Texas Relays. He also would have eclipsed the indoor school record if he had not redshirted the 2010-11 indoor season, as Shepherd cleared 17-7.25 at the Hokie Invitational.
Shepherd will anchor a deep and talented group of men's pole vaulters, which also features redshirt junior Cody Fridgen, redshirt sophomore Taylor Schmidt and incoming freshmen Cody Bingham and Jon Drablos.
Fridgen, who has cleared 15-9, was the 2010 Big South outdoor men's pole vault champion before redshirting last season. Schmidt, a decathlete, owns a personal-best clearance of 14-9. He finished second in the men's pole vault at the 2011 Big South indoor meet.
Bingham and Drablos were high school teammates at Liberty Christian Academy and two of the best high school pole vaulters in Virginia a year ago. Bingham cleared 15-7 a year ago, while Drablos got over 15-0.
Newcomers will lead the way for Liberty in the high jump, in the form of freshman Kyle Wheeler and junior Logan Elliston. Wheeler jumped 7-0 as a senior at Trinity Christian High School in Texas last year, while Elliston is a transfer from UNC Wilmington who boasts a personal best of 6-10.
Schmidt is another option in the high jump, as the decathlete has cleared 6-4.75 and placed seventh at the 2011 Big South indoor meet.
Senior Aaron Johnson and junior Kevin Reddington are the Flames' top returnees in the long and triple jumps. Johnson owns personal-best marks of 24-2.5 in the long jump and 47-0.25 in the triple jump. Meanwhile, former Big South Freshman of the Year Reddington has long jumped 24-1 and triple jumped 47-3.75.
Wheeler will get a chance to try the long and triple jump as well, after sailing out to 23-6.75 and 45-10.75, respectively, in high school.
Women's Jumps The Liberty women's team won five out of eight jumping events at the 2011 Big South indoor and outdoor championships. With all of the Lady Flames' champions returning this season, the jumps should be one of the team's strongest areas.
Junior Shelley Parker is back after sweeping the Big South indoor and outdoor pole vault championships a year ago. She also pushed her personal-best clearance up to 12-7.5. That ranks second in program history, trailing only former NCAA national runner-up Andrea Wildrick.
Some of Parker's top competition in the conference this year could come from redshirt senior teammate Rachel Houseknecht. Tolsma reports that Houseknecht has enjoyed a good fall of training and has "strong potential to be in the hunt at the Big South meet." Houseknecht's top clearance is 11-7.75 entering her final season.
Tolsma's daughter Tami Tolsma is also a senior pole vaulter and will aim to improve upon her 10-8 personal best.
Moving on to the high jump, the Lady Flames boast good depth in the event, featuring two past Big South champions. Redshirt senior Mia Aghaji won the 2008 indoor and outdoor titles, while redshirt junior Christina Mitchell was the 2009 Big South indoor high jump titlist.
Aghaji, Mitchell, redshirt senior Marianne Wheeler and sophomore Kristen Willeford have all jumped 5-5 or higher in a Liberty uniform. Freshman heptathlete Audrey Bamford could also contribute in the high jump during her first season as a Lady Flame.
Aghaji enjoyed a breakthrough season in the triple jump as a junior, winning the Big South indoor and outdoor crowns and pushing the school record up to 42-0.5. Now a five-time Big South individual event champion during her career, Aghaji also triple jumped at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in 2011.
Senior Alyssa Pegues will provide strong support in the triple jump, entering her final season as a three-time All-Big South triple jumper and with a personal-best leap of 39-5.75. Freshmen Melissa Rohwer of Idaho (39-7.75 personal best) and Bari Minter of Texas (38-5) could also make an immediate impact in the event.
Pegues won the 2011 Big South indoor long jump championship, and her personal-best distance of 18-9.75 makes her one of six Lady Flames in the 18-foot range. The versatile Aghaji (18-10 personal best) and Mitchell (18-0.25) are also strong long jumpers, as is senior Melanie Sims (18-2.25). Rohwer long jumped 18-6.75 in high school, while Minter went 17-11.
Watch for a preview of the throwing events, decathlon and heptathlon early next week.
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