Redshirt senior Melinda Bendik headlines a vastly improved women's throwing crew.
The start of the 2011-12 indoor track & field season is now less than two weeks away, with the Liberty Kickoff set for Dec. 2-3 inside the Tolsma Indoor Track Center. Today's article breaks down the Flames' throwers, decathletes and heptathletes.
Men's Throws Despite the graduation of two-time NCAA national qualifier and multi-time Big South champion Elliot Galeone, the Liberty men's track & field team should still have a "solid throws crew" this season, according to head coach Brant Tolsma.
Leading the way is redshirt junior Ryan Smith, whose best event is the shot put. He has won every Big South shot put title he has competed for during his collegiate career, including two indoor and two outdoor crowns. Last season, he pushed his personal best to 58-6.5. This year, he will aim for the 60-foot barrier and his first NCAA national appearance.
Tolsma also noted that Smith has made good improvement in the discus and hammer, and the Georgia native will look to score points for the Flames at the Big South meet in both events. Last year, Smith took fourth in the Big South hammer competition and sixth in the discus.
Tim Abbott returns for his sophomore season, and Tolsma expects significant improvement from him. He will look to throw over 50 feet in the shot put and improve upon his personal-best 151-11 discus toss.
Decathlete Jacob DeValve is another strong contributor in the throwing events. In 2011, he placed fourth in the shot put at both the Big South indoor and outdoor championships, topping out at 51-7.75. DeValve also finished sixth in the Big South javelin competition at 188-11.
A pair of talented freshmen—David Scouten and Steve Feister—should also contribute in the throwing events right away. Scouten, who threw 61-7.75 in the shot put as a senior in Michigan, has the best mark of any shot putter Liberty has ever signed out of high school, according to Tolsma. He is expected to contend for points at the Big South meet in the shot put, discus and hammer.
Feister will join DeValve as the Flames' top javelin options, after winning the Penn Relays javelin title with a personal-best 211-5 heave this past season.
Decathlete Taylor Schmidt and junior Gabriel Percival are two other javelin throwers who could score at the Big South meet.
Decathlon The decathlon has traditionally been one of Liberty's top events, and it should be an area of strength once again, despite the graduation of Big South and IC4A champion Geren Woodbridge.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Schmidt, Liberty's top returnee, will be back in action after redshirting the 2011 outdoor season. He scored 6,844 points to finish fifth at the 2010 USATF Junior Outdoor Track & Field Championships and was an IC4A qualifier in the indoor heptathlon a year ago. "Taylor has national-level potential," Tolsma noted. "We look for him to make a significant impact this season."
Fellow redshirt sophomore Jacob DeValve also looks for a strong season, after being limited to competition in the throwing events a year ago. "We're hopeful Jake will show his potential this year," stated Tolsma. "He has struggled with a variety of injuries throughout his time here."
Cody Bingham, the son of Liberty associate head coach Lance Bingham, is the Flames' most promising new decathlete, but he may redshirt as a freshman. As a senior at Liberty Christian Academy, he pole vaulted 15-7. The previous year, he scored 52 points in eight events at the VISAA state meet.
Other options include redshirt sophomore Harrison Allen and redshirt freshman Tevan McIntire. Allen came in sixth in the Big South decathlon last season, while McIntire was redshirted.
Women's Throws The women's throwing events have been some of Liberty's weakest disciplines in recent years. The Lady Flames have not won a Big South throwing event since heptathlete Danielle McNaney captured the conference javelin title in 2005. Additionally, the women's outdoor shot put record (43-11.75) has stood since 1982 and the discus mark (151-8) has lasted since 1992.
That should all change this year, as "Coach [Clendon] Henderson has brought in hands down the strongest women's throwing crew we've ever had at Liberty," according to Tolsma.
The Lady Flames' throwers have been bolstered by the return of Melinda Bendik from a redshirt season, Emily Woods transferring from Ohio, incoming freshmen Mychelle Cumings and Jennifer Nicholson and the continued development of sophomores Jocelyn Williams and Rachel Barnes.
Bendik hopes to close out her career with a trip to the NCAA national meet in the hammer. During her 2011 redshirt season, she increased her hammer personal best to 198-3. That distance would have placed 12th at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Williams is serving as somewhat of an understudy for Bendik this year, as she looks for significant improvement upon her 151-3 hammer personal best as a freshman. The duo went back and forth in the weight throw last season, with Williams edging Bendik for third place at the Big South indoor meet. The next week, Bendik broke the school record at 55-0.25 and placed ninth in the ECAC.
The shot put record figures to come under the most pressure from Cumings and Woods this season. Both have already thrown longer than the school record during their career, with Cumings reaching 45-7 as a Tennessee high school senior and Woods throwing 44-0 during her prep career in Pennsylvania. Both Barnes (42-3.5) and Williams (40-1.25) threw over 40 feet as freshmen and look for additional improvement in 2012.
The discus could be Liberty's deepest women's throwing event, with five Lady Flames potentially going over the ECAC standard of 139-5. In order of personal-best marks, Woods (154-2), Cumings (154-0.5), Nicholson (151-10), Bendik (142-9) and Williams (142-7) will give Liberty plenty of viable options in the event. As a point of reference, 144-5 was the winning throw at the Big South meet in 2011.
Even the Lady Flames' weakest women's throwing event, the javelin, could be a source of significant points at the Big South meet. Heptathlete Christina Mitchell placed third in the Big South javelin a year ago and is the top conference returnee in the event. She boasts a personal best of 134-8. Meanwhile, Nicholson, who stands 5-10, is learning the event and shows promise, according to Tolsma.
Heptathlon Christina Mitchell enjoyed her best season to date in the heptathlon a year ago, winning both the Big South and ECAC titles. Now a redshirt junior, she aims for continued development and improvement upon her personal-best score of 4,968 points.
Behind Mitchell, the Lady Flames will aim to develop several freshmen in the heptathlon. Audrey Bamford of Pennsylvania and Riley Brandon of Texas will both give the multi-event a try, and Texan Bari Minter could be an option as well.
Check back later this week for a preview of the Flames' sprints, hurdles and relays.
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