Heather Zealand returns to Liberty as track, cross country assistant coach
This will mark Zealand’s second stint on the Liberty track & field/cross country staff, as she previously spent nine years (2002-2011) as an assistant.
In her role, Zealand will primarily work with the Liberty women’s distance runners, who made the program’s first-ever appearance at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships this past season.
“When I found out that Rachel was leaving, I was quite anxious about how we would go forward with the women’s distance program,” stated Liberty Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Lance Bingham. “Kelly, my wife, encouraged me and said, ‘When the Lord moves someone in a different direction as He is directing Rachel, He already has a plan and we can trust Him in the process.’”
“So, the first person I thought about calling was Heather and she was excited about the possibility. Yes, God IS in control and we could not be more excited about Heather continuing the work that the Lord has begun here as she coaches and mentors our student-athletes, specifically our women’s distance group.”
“Liberty track and cross country has had a huge impact on my life,” stated Zealand. “Ever since I left the program to invest in my family it has always been a desire of mine to work with this team again at some capacity. I love to see the ways the Lord uses running for His glory, and I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing program!”
During her previous time coaching at Liberty, Zealand helped guide the Liberty men’s and women’s cross country squads to 10 Big South Conference titles. She also oversaw the Liberty teams which recorded the program’s best-ever finishes at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships (men – fifth in 2007 and 2008 and women – seventh in 2007).
Zealand captured Liberty’s first NCAA Division I national title in any sport, racing to victory in the women’s mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. That was one of two All-America honors she earned during her collegiate career, also including a runner-up finish in the women’s 1,500 at the 2002 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Zealand was a 14-time Big South champion and became the first Lady Flame ever to win an ECAC event title (2002 indoor mile). As a senior in 2002, she became the first collegiate athlete since 1987 to capture the Olympic Development mile title at the Penn Relays. Zealand still owns four program records, headlined by her clockings in the outdoor 1,500 (4:14.71) and indoor mile (4:38.52).
Zealand was also a standout in the classroom, graduating in 2002 with a 3.88 GPA as a secondary education major. She was named to the 2002 CoSIDA Academic All-America women’s cross country/track & field squad and was the 2002 USTFCCCA Division I Women’s Track & Field Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Zealand was additionally named 2002 Virginia NCAA Woman of the Year and Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
After graduation, Zealand represented the United States at the 2003 World Cross Country Championships and made the women’s 1,500 finals at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. She was inducted into the Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.
Zealand is married to former Liberty men’s track & field/cross country runner Josh Zealand. The couple has four children—Allie, William, Piper and Owen.
Zealand replaces Rachel Johnson, who will be getting married and stepping away from collegiate coaching. During her two years at Liberty, Johnson helped the Liberty women’s distance squad make history. During the spring 2021 cross country season, the Lady Flames claimed their first-ever ASUN Conference title and made their first appearance at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. As a result, Johnson was named ASUN Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year.
“Rachel has been and will continue to be an incredible influence for the Kingdom of God,” stated Bingham. “She poured into our young women and helped to continue to build our women’s distance program to the national level with a focus on honoring Christ. We are excited for Rachel and Drew as they embark on a new chapter in their lives as they serve the Lord in Flagstaff.”
As part of the staff restructuring, Isaac Wendland is being promoted to men’s and women’s cross country head coach. He has coached the men’s distance runners since returning to his alma mater in January 2019 but will now have oversight of both the men’s and women’s cross country squads.
“Isaac has a passion for impacting lives for Christ and for growing Liberty Cross Country to compete consistently at the national level,” Bingham observed. “He is a great leader and collaborates well with others. He will continue to implement our overall vision as he leads the cross country program. I have great confidence in Isaac serving this program going forward and am excited about the future of Liberty Cross Country.”