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Hopes are High for Men's Cross Country in 2013
The Liberty men's cross country team has enjoyed considerable success in recent years, including three NCAA individual national championships and an unprecedented eight straight Big South Conference team titles. In 2013, the Flames hope to bolster their impressive program resume by earning their first-ever team qualification to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
Last season, Liberty placed seventh at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, marking the Flames' top regional finish since 2008. David Ricksecker, the 2012 Big South men's cross country runner-up, was the only member of that team lost to graduation. Meanwhile, the return of Josh MacDonald from a redshirt season should help offset his loss.
"We're excited about the upcoming season because we have such a veteran team," noted head coach Brant Tolsma. "We have essentially the same team as last year, but with another year of running under their belts. Once again, our big goal is to make it to the national championship meet as a team."
Essentially, two meets will determine whether or not the Flames are successful in achieving that lofty goal. Liberty will need to run well at the ISU Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind., and then finish as one of the top four or five teams at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, Nov. 15 at Virginia's home course in Earlysville.
With so much focus on the NCAA national meet, Tolsma cautioned, "We don't want to take the Big South title for granted. High Point has demonstrated a great ability to develop distance runners and certainly has hopes of ending our streak."
Liberty has captured eight Big South men's cross country team championships in a row since beginning the streak when assistant coach Josh McDougal was a sophomore in 2005. The Flames will attempt to continue the longest championship streak in Big South men's cross country history on Nov. 2 in nearby Buena Vista, Va.
Although the Flames lack a national title-contending front runner this season, they will be paced by a strong pack of four runners, including senior and team captain Caleb Edmonds, redshirt junior MacDonald, redshirt sophomore Ngetich Kipchirchir and sophomore Jeremie Bourget.
Edmonds is the top returnee from the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships, where he placed third. The Empire State native then went on to improve his track times to 3:48.32 in the 1,500 and 13:57.09 in the 5K during the spring.
After redshirting the 2012 cross country season, MacDonald excelled on the track. He won the IC4A steeplechase title in 8:49.14 and finished third in the IC4A indoor 5K final in 14:10.33.
Kipchirchir was the Flames' top finisher at the 2012 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, crossing the line in 26th place. He was also named the 2012 Big South Men's Cross Country Freshman of the Year, after placing fourth at the conference meet.
Bourget came in 52nd at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships as a freshman. He later placed third in both the Big South indoor and outdoor 5K finals on the track.
Fellow sophomore Will Templeton came in seventh at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships, but has been slowed by injuries since then.
Liberty also returns three other runners who crossed the line inside the top 21 at last year's Big South meet, in sophomore Sam Hibbs (13th), senior Zach Barker (14th) and redshirt junior Nate Jones (21st).
Redshirt junior Jarred Cornfield will provide additional experience, after redshirting the 2012 campaign. The middle-distance track standout owns personal-best times of 3:55.45 in the 1,500 and 4:15.33 in the mile. He placed 25th at the 2010 Big South Cross Country Championships as a freshman.
Sophomore transfer Josh Showalter is the newcomer most likely to make an impact for the Flames in 2013. He was named the USA South Men's Cross Country Rookie of the Year at Christopher Newport in 2012.