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Liberty Looks to Defend Big South XC Titles
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The Liberty men's and women's cross country teams will both attempt to defend their conference titles at Saturday morning's 2013 Big South Cross Country Championships. The meet will be hosted by VMI at the Vista Links Golf Course in Buena Vista, Va.
The men's 8K championship race will get the day started at 10:30 a.m., with Liberty favored to capture its Big South-record ninth straight team title. The Lady Flames will then aim for their sixth Big South championship in eight years during the women's 5K championship, beginning at 11:30.
How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Liberty fans will be able to keep up with the teams on Saturday via live Twitter updates from the course. Fans are urged to follow the official Liberty Flames Twitter account (twitter.com/libertyflames) for updates throughout both of the day's races.
Saturday's weather forecast in Buena Vista should meet to distance runners' liking, as it calls for sunny skies and a high temperature of 60 degrees.
Checking Out the Course
Saturday's meet will be just the second ever contested at the Vista Links Golf Course, following the Sept. 21 VMI Invitational. The times recorded that day illustrate just how hilly and challenging the course is, especially on the men's side. For example, Liberty's Josh MacDonald recorded an 8K time of 26:43 at the VMI Invitational, one week before he posted a 23:59 for the same distance at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational.
Liberty found the Vista Links Golf Course to its liking on Sept. 21, as an impressive 1-2-3-4 finish by Caleb Edmonds, Ngetich Kipchirchir, MacDonald and Jeremie Bourget fueled the Flames' victory. Edmonds' winning 8K clocking of 26:12 currently ranks as the course record.
On the women's side, Liberty junior Jacy Christiansen took individual runner-up honors, helping the Lady Flames come in a close second to Coastal Carolina.
This is the second time VMI has hosted the Big South Cross Country Championships. The Keydets hosted the 2005 Big South meet at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington, Va. That day, current Liberty assistant coach Josh McDougal took home the men's individual title and the Flames began their current streak of men's team conference championships.
Men's Team Preview
Liberty enters Saturday's meet having won a Big South-record eight consecutive Big South men's cross country team championships in a row. That is the fifth-longest active streak of conference titles among NCAA Division I men's cross country teams, trailing only Iona (22 straight MAAC championships), Butler (15 straight Horizon League/Atlantic 10 championships), Wisconsin (14 straight Big 10 championships) and William & Mary (13 straight CAA championships).
The Flames, who boast five runners that placed in the top 14 at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships, were a unanimous preseason favorite to claim this year's title. Liberty then backed up those expectations by soundly defeating top conference rival High Point at back-to-back meets, the VMI Invitational (Sept. 21) and the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational (Sept. 28).
Liberty is headlined by the quartet of senior Caleb Edmonds, redshirt junior Josh MacDonald, redshirt sophomore Ngetich Kipchirchir and sophomore Jeremie Bourget. They have combined for four Big South individual titles and 19 all-conference honors, including cross country and track & field.
Edmonds and MacDonald have each been named Big South Runner of the Week this season, but two of the key members of the Flames' team on Saturday will be senior Zach Barker and sophomore Sam Hibbs. They will be the top two candidates to serve as Liberty's fifth and final scorer. At last year's Big South meet, Hibbs came in 13th overall while Barker was 14th.
Other Team Challenger
High Point – Head coach Mike Esposito's Panthers have finished second to Liberty at each of the last six Big South Cross Country Championships and are the Flames' top contender again in 2013.
Redshirt sophomore Jeff LaCoste has been High Point's most consistent performer this season. Most recently, he finished fourth at the Blue Ridge Open on Oct. 18, earning Big South Runner of the Week honors.
Senior Patrick Crawford will be a key to the Panthers' title hopes on Saturday. He finished fifth at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships and got off to a great start this season, winning a pair of Big South Runner of the Week laurels in September. However, Crawford struggled to a 64th-place finish at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on Sept. 28 and sat out the Blue Ridge Open due to injury, leaving his status for Saturday's race in question.
The Panthers are seeking their first Big South title since capturing three straight crowns between 2002 and 2004.
• Liberty has won a conference-high 14 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 22 appearances at the conference meet. During that span, the next closest Big South men's squads are Coastal Carolina and High Point, with three titles apiece.
• Liberty has won every Big South men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field team championship since finishing second to Coastal Carolina at the 2006 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships. That equals seven straight Big South Triple Crowns and 21 consecutive men's team titles for the Flames.
• The Flames' eight straight Big South cross country titles have been won by an average of 24 points. Last year, Liberty posted a 21-point victory (28-49) over High Point.
• Liberty has won the men's team crown the last four times the Big South Cross Country Championships have been contested in Virginia (1998, 2005, 2008, 2010). The only time the Flames were not victorious in their home state came in 1993, when Liberty took sixth place at Radford.
• Liberty and High Point have combined to win 11 straight Big South men's team titles since Winthrop's championship on its home course in 2001.
• Liberty has recorded 10 consecutive top two finishes at the Big South meet. Prior to the Flames' current run of eight straight titles, Liberty placed second behind High Point in 2003 and 2004.
• The Flames have boasted the Big South individual champion 12 of the 14 times they have won the Big South team crown. The only exceptions came in 1994, when Bill Khan led Liberty with a runner-up finish, and 2012, when David Ricksecker was the Flames' leader in second place.
Men's Individual Preview
Liberty runners have won the men's individual title 17 times in the Flames' 22 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships. The Flames had captured a conference-record eight straight individual championships before High Point's Jacob Smith broke the streak a year ago.
Liberty's quartet of senior Caleb Edmonds, redshirt sophomore Ngetich Kipchirchir, redshirt junior Josh MacDonald and sophomore Jeremie Bourget finished 1-2-3-4 at the Sept. 21 VMI Invitational at the Vista Links Golf Course, stamping all four as possible individual champions on Saturday.
Edmonds, Kipchirchir and MacDonald have all captured Big South championships on the track, but none of the current Flames have won a Big South individual cross country title. Assistant coach Josh McDougal earned four individual championships in a row, between 2004 and 2007.
Edmonds (third place) and Kipchirchir (fourth place) are the top two returnees from the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships. Meanwhile, Edmonds was victorious by 18 seconds at this year's VMI Invitational, in an 8K course-record time of 26:12.77.
However, MacDonald has been Liberty's runner in top form in recent weeks, serving as the Flames' No. 1 finisher at the Sept. 28 Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational and the Oct. 19 ISU/Pre-National Invitational. The California native came in eighth at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships before redshirting the 2012 season.
Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Patrick Crawford (High Point) – Crawford will look to bounce back from a recent injury and complete an impressive career of performances at the Big South Cross Country Championships. The senior was the 2010 Big South Freshman of the Year before placing third individually in 2011 and fifth last season.
Jeff LaCoste (High Point) – LaCoste is coming off of a strong performance at the Blue Ridge Open on Oct. 18, which saw him place fourth overall and earn Big South Runner of the Week honors. The Panthers' most consistent performer this season placed eighth at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships.
Morgan Timiney (Campbell) – A senior, Timiney has been one of the conference's best distance runners during his career, placing 10th at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships and sixth a year ago. He was tabbed the Big South Runner of the Week on Sept. 11.
• If a Liberty runner is victorious on Saturday, he would become the eighth different Flame to capture a Big South individual men's cross country title, joining Bill Khan (1991-92), Josh Cox (1995-96), Stephen Githuka (1997-99), Bruce Kite (2000), Josh McDougal (2004-07), Sam Chelanga (2008-10) and Zac Edwards (2011).
• The Flames have placed three runners inside the top five at six of the last eight Big South Championships.
• With a top 10 finish, Caleb Edmonds would become the 13th men's runner in program history to earn at least three All-Big South cross country awards during his career. Older brother Josh Edmonds is one of two Flames (also Josh McDougal) to be a four-time All-Big South honoree in cross country.
Women's Team Preview
The Liberty women's cross country team won its fifth Big South title in seven years in 2012, but the Lady Flames will be challenged to repeat on Saturday. Three all-conference runners graduated from last year's team, headlined by three-time individual Big South champion Jennifer Klugh.
Led by junior Jacy Christiansen's runner-up finish, the Lady Flames were able to finish second to Coastal Carolina at the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21. Since then, Christiansen suffered an injury during the ISU Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19, leaving her status for Saturday's race in question. Moreover, junior Meredith Mistretta, who placed 15th at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships, has seen illness end her season prematurely.
As a result, Liberty will lean heavily upon freshmen at the Vista Links Golf Course, with up to six newcomers toeing the starting line for the Lady Flames. Jessie Proehl has been the team's top freshman thus far in 2013, serving as the Lady Flames' No. 2 runner for most of the season. She came in ninth at the VMI Invitational at the Vista Links Golf Course on Sept. 21 and could be relied upon to pace Liberty's effort on Saturday.
Liberty has suffered setbacks to Coastal Carolina and Campbell this season and defeated High Point by a single point at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational.
Other Team Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Campbell – Led by the talented senior duo of Ashley Mathews and Samantha Robbins, the Camels will aim for their best-ever Big South finish. Campbell's top performance at the conference meet to date was a tie for third place in 1991.
The Camels came in fourth at the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21 and defeated Liberty at the ISU Pre-National Invitational two weeks ago, with Robbins and Mathews each clocking 6K times under 22:30.
Coastal Carolina – Head coach Alan Connie's Chanticleers are literally always in the championship discussion at this meet. For 25 consecutive seasons, Coastal Carolina has finished either first, second or third, including last year's runner-up performance.
Coastal Carolina stamped itself as the early conference favorite with its victory at the Sept. 21 VMI Invitational. The Chanticleers are led by the standout South African duo of sophomore Letitia Saayman and freshman Kyla van Graan, who have combined for five Big South Runner of the Week distinctions this fall. They are backed up by seniors Emma Hulburd, Emily Marchini, Shelby Nicosia and Janel Reeves.
High Point – High Point's roster features six of the 10 runners who captured the Big South cross country title in 2011, led by senior Kayleigh Perry. The two-time all-conference performer has been rounding into form in recent weeks and will be essential to the Panthers' title hopes on Saturday.
Even with all of the veterans dotting the High Point roster, freshman Cozette Collin has immediately emerged as the team's No. 1 runner in 2013. She placed fourth at the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21 and is a leading contender (along with Coastal Carolina's van Graan) for Big South Freshman of the Year honors.
UNC Asheville – The Bulldogs will aim for their first top four Big South finish since 2006 on Saturday, fueled by a tightly bunched pack of runners. Senior Melanie Kulesz broke free from the pack for an impressive ninth-place finish at the Oct. 18 Blue Ridge Open, while Asheville's No. 2-5 runners crossed the line within 38 seconds of each other. That enabled the Bulldogs to finish second among Big South teams at the meet, trailing only Coastal Carolina.
• Liberty has finished in the top two at each of the last nine Big South women's cross country meets, including victories in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011.
• The Lady Flames will aim to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2009 and 2010.
• Coastal Carolina (12 titles) and Liberty (eight titles) are the perennial contenders at this meet. The Chanticleers and Lady Flames have combined to win 12 of the last 13 Big South women's cross country championships, with the lone exception being High Point's crown in 2011.
Women's Individual Preview
A new Big South women's cross country individual champion will be crowned this season, following the graduation of Liberty's Jennifer Klugh, who won the 2010, 2011 and 2012 conference titles.
Junior Jacy Christiansen was positioning herself at a run to keep the title in Lynchburg prior to getting injured at the ISU Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19. She is the third-fastest returnee from the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships and finished second at the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21.
With Christiansen's status for Saturday's race in question, freshman Jessie Proehl could end up as Liberty's top Big South finisher. She could also be in the mix for Big South Freshman of the Year honors, along with Coastal Carolina's Kyla van Graan and High Point's Cozette Collin.
Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Melanie Kulesz (UNC Asheville) – A senior, Kulesz has stepped forward as the unquestioned leader of an up-and-coming UNC Asheville squad. Two weeks ago, she placed ninth at the Blue Ridge Open, finishing just nine seconds behind conference individual favorite Letitia Saayman of Coastal Carolina.
Letitia Saayman (Coastal Carolina) – Saayman, the 2012 Big South Freshman of the Year, is the favorite to win the 2013 individual title. All four of her races this season have resulted in Big South Runner of the Week recognitions, including her 17-second victory over Liberty's Jacy Christiansen at the Sept. 21 VMI Invitational.
Saayman already knows what it feels like to be a Big South champion, winning the 10K title at the 2012 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Jeanne Stroud (Winthrop) – Despite a disappointing 2013 season to date, Stroud's title chances cannot be totally discounted. She led most of the 2012 Big South race before Liberty's Jennifer Klugh came from behind to win. Stroud then won the 2013 Big South indoor 5K and outdoor 5K and 10K championships on the oval.
Kyla van Graan (Coastal Carolina) – Van Graan has teamed up with countrywoman Letitia Saayman to form an impressive 1-2 punch for the Chanticleers during her freshman campaign. She has finished inside the top 10 four times in five races, including a victory at the Sept. 13 CCU Invitational in an impressive 5K time of 17:55.14.
Teresa Williamson (Radford) – Williamson has been the biggest breakthrough performer of the Big South Conference this season. The junior raced to a 6K time of 21:57 at the Charlotte Invitational on Sept. 28 and then posted a 5K clocking of 18:15 at the Oct. 18 Blue Ridge Open. That put her less than four seconds behind conference favorite Letitia Saayman of Coastal Carolina.
• None of the runners in Saturday's field has won a Big South individual cross country title, but Liberty's Jacy Christiansen, Coastal Carolina's Letitia Saayman and Winthrop's Jeanne Stroud have all been victorious in track conference championship races during their careers.
• Every time Liberty has won the Big South women's cross country team title, its No. 1 runner has placed in the top three.
• A Lady Flame has placed in the top three at the Big South meet every year since 2005.
• Liberty's last freshman to serve as the team's top finisher at the Big South Championship was Danielle Jordan, who came in fourth overall in 2004.
• Liberty has had four Big South Freshmen of the Year in meet history, with the most recent being Dacia Bushman in 2007.
• Only two different Lady Flames have been the Big South individual champion in meet history, including Jennifer Klugh (2010-12) and Heather Sagan (2000-01).