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Liberty’s upcoming Royal Cross Country Challenge on Oct. 12 is not the first thing that is on the Flames minds. What is at the top of their list is the Big South Championship, which starts at the end of the month.
What hangs in the balance for the men’s cross country team is winning their eighth straight conference championship. The Lady Flames, on the other hand, are looking to climb back onto the mountain.
“I believe the streak started my sophomore year,” Assistant Coach Josh McDougal said. “We hadn’t won anything since the mid-90s. If we win this fall, it will be our eighth straight championship, which is already a conference record.”
At the Notre Dame Invitational 5K, both Flames squads had success. The Lady Flames had five runners finish with their personal best. Sophomore Meredith Mistretta shaved 35 seconds off her time from her last 5K and nearly a minute, 19:14 – 18:17, since the season began.
“It’s very exciting,” senior Jennifer Klugh said. “Girls are dropping times left and right between first and fifth runners … It’s good to see the girls stepping up and improve each meet.”
Klugh was the Women’s Big South Runner of the Week due to almost breaking the school record she set a year ago. At Notre Dame, she finished with a time of 17:33, only five seconds slower than the pace she set at the 2011 Charlotte Invitational.
“It went really well, although on paper it may have not looked great,” Klugh said. “But we were up against some really good competition. Our team did the best we have done in the last couple years.”
In his season debut, senior David Ricksecker set the pace for the Flames with a time of 24:37, ultimately finished 61st. Following him, Ngetich Kipchirchir (70th place) and Caleb Edmonds (71st place) both finished with a time of 24:41. Over the course of the season, both teams have dealt with nagging injuries to key runners. Luckily, they were not severe enough that runners missed much action, but they always are a cause of concern for any coach or runner.
“There were a lot of positives at Notre Dame,” McDougal said. “We did not finish as high as we wanted to, but we’ve had a lot of setbacks this year. Our No. 1 runner has not been healthy to run … our top freshman in the first race pulled a calf muscle … Overall, we ran better than anyone from the conference in the meet.”
As for right now, Tolsma has spoken to this team about not only success, but coming together in their final meet before the Big South Championship Oct. 27.