CSU's Houston, LU's Bendik Earns All-America Honors Thursday


DES MOINES, Iowa -- CSU sprinter Gabrielle Houston raced to an 18th place finish in the preliminaries of the 200-meter dash, while Liberty redshirt senior Melinda Bendik placed 16th in the women's hammer final Thursday at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium.  Both individuals earned All-American honors for their efforts.

Houston ran a 23.68, placing eighth in her heat and 18th out of 24 competitors.  She missed the cut for finals as the top two from each heat plus the next two fastest competitors advanced to the final heat.  LSU's Kimberly Duncan and Semony Hackett enter tomorrow's heats ranked first and second, respectively.  Duncan ran a 22.19 to take first by .39 seconds.  All but one of the eight competitors for tomorrow's final broke the 23.00 mark.

For her performance, Houston earned USTFCCCA All-American Honorable Mention honors.  Houston represented the smallest school and conference in her event, competing with runners from the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Big East. 

"I'm so incredibly proud of her," says head coach Tosha Ansley.  "To take a year off and come back to make it to nationals is truly an accomplishment.  It was a great experience for both of us and I think this will be something great that she can share with our younger kids as something to work for next season."

Bendik, whose top throw reached 192-7, becomes Liberty's first women's track & field All-American since 2002.  The official All-America classifications will be announced by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on Monday, but Bendik is guaranteed All-America status by virtue of her qualification to Des Moines.

Liberty's first women's thrower ever to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Bendik got off to a bit of a rough start, committing a foot foul on her opening attempt.

"Today was tough," Bendik stated. "It was a struggle.  I came out and did some good things on the second throw, but just fell back off the finish.  That's been my problem the last two weeks, not being able to put the finish together."

Bendik's aforementioned second throw landed at 192-7, putting her in a tie for 16th place with South Alabama senior Latifah Johnson.  The Odessa, Texas native then broke the tie with her third attempt.  Bendik's 189-11 mark was superior to the second best effort of Johnson, which reached 185-9.

Thursday's competition wrapped up Bendik's impressive senior campaign.  She won the Big South and ECAC women's hammer titles, before pushing the Liberty women's hammer record all the way up to 202-7 at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet.

"I've had a very successful season overall, and the Lord has blessed me beyond what I could ever imagine," reflected Bendik.  "I'm very happy with how the season went."

On Friday, Kolby Shepherd will pole vault at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships for the second consecutive year. H is competition will begin at 5:30 p.m. Eastern inside Drake Stadium.