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Liberty Men's XC Races to Big South Title

November 2, 2013
|  Buena Vista, Va.
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The Liberty men's cross country team won its ninth consecutive Big South Conference title on Saturday.

A true team effort led the Liberty men's cross country squad to its ninth consecutive conference title, Saturday morning at the 2013 Big South Cross Country Championships. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames came in second at the meet contested at the Vista Links Golf Course.

Sophomore Jeremie Bourget's third-place finish paced seven Flames who finished inside the top 17 on Saturday, enabling Liberty to hold off High Point by a 40-48 score. Redshirt junior Josh MacDonald (fourth place), sophomore Sam Hibbs (ninth place) and senior Zach Barker (11th place) also earned all-conference honors for Liberty, which captured its 15th Big South men's cross country team crown. It was the seventh straight second-place finish for the Panthers.

On the women's side, a gutsy third-place effort by junior Jacy Christiansen helped Liberty come in second with 76 points. Coastal Carolina took home the team title with 56 points, while UNC Asheville came in just two points behind the Lady Flames in third place with 78 tallies. This marks the 10th consecutive season Liberty has finished in the top two at this meet, including five titles and five runner-up finishes.

Caleb Edmonds, a senior biology: pre-med major, was voted Big South Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year, becoming the first Flame to win the award since older brother Josh Edmonds did so in both 2008 and 2010. He was also included on the Big South All-Academic team along with Christiansen, a communications major.

For the ninth straight season, Brant Tolsma was tabbed Big South Men's Coach of the Year. He is now a 55-time Big South Coach of the Year recipient overall during his tenure at Liberty.

Men's 8K Race Recap
The extremely hilly terrain at the Vista Links Golf Course took its toll on many top runners, including the Liberty duo of Edmonds and Ngetich Kipchirchir. After the pair had finished first and second at the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21, they slipped to 16th and 17th, respectively, on Saturday.

Moreover, High Point put considerable pressure on the Flames when Panthers Patrick Crawford and Jeff LaCoste were the first two runners to cross the finish line on the sun-drenched morning.

But Liberty responded to the challenge with its overall team depth, paced by Bourget. The Canadian came in third in an 8K time of 26:02.35, making him one of three runners to break Edmonds' course record of 26:12.77.

Early race leader MacDonald held on for fourth place in 26:13.63, garnering the seventh All-Big South honor of his career.

Hibbs (ninth place, 26:31.21) and Barker (11th place, 26:45.96) both moved up numerous places during the latter stages of the race and each finished ahead of High Point's No. 3 runner, Paddy Grandinali. For both Hibbs and Barker, it was the first All-Big South notation of their respective collegiate careers.

Perhaps the Flames' most impressive performance of the day was fashioned by redshirt junior Jarred Cornfield. He flew down the final downhill and raced up to a 13th-place finish, sealing Liberty's team championship. It was easily the Empire State native's highest placement at the Big South Cross Country Championships, improving upon his 25th-place effort from 2010. Cornfield's official time was 27:05.00, marking a major improvement from his 29:42.38 clocking at the VMI Invitational six weeks earlier.

Edmonds, who ran inside the top five for most of the race, ended up 16th of 93 entrants in 27:12.32. Kipchirchir's time of 27:14.73 placed him 17th overall and seventh among the championship-winning Flames.

Women's 5K Race Recap
After suffering an injury at the Oct. 19 Pre-National Invitational, Christiansen's status for the meet was up in the air earlier this week. But the New Hampshire native showed no ill effects, running with the race leaders the entire way. She traversed the challenging course in 18:00.22, garnering third place. The Lady Flames have now had a top three finisher at this meet every year since 2005.

Jessie Proehl also earned all-conference recognition with a ninth-place showing in a time of 18:52.12. She was the second freshman to finish, following Coastal Carolina's Kyla van Graan in second place. Proehl also became the first Lady Flame freshman to place inside the top 10 since fellow Buckeye Stater Jennifer Klugh came in third as a redshirt freshman in 2009.

Two other freshmen placed inside Liberty's top five, including Chelsea Page in 17th place (19:13.49) and Kat Bouton in 29th place (19:45.98). They sandwiched Lyndi Fielitz, who recorded a 5K personal-best time of 19:17.50 for the 18th position. A redshirt senior, Fielitz had never placed better than 46th at the Big South meet prior to Saturday's stellar performance.

Seniors Katie Russo and Jessica Gass served as Liberty's No. 6 and 7 runners. Russo came in 31st of 94 in 19:47.12, with Gass following in 34th place in 19:51.01.

Liberty's top seven men's and women's runners will take next weekend off from competition before returning to Virginia's Panorama Farms for the third time this season on Nov. 15. That day, the Flames and Lady Flames will compete in the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, attempting to qualify to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

The runners not heading to Virginia will wrap up their 2013 campaigns in Blacksburg, Va., at Friday afternoon's Hokie Open. The meet is slated for a 4:30 p.m. start.

Final Men's Team Scores
1) Liberty – 40

2) High Point – 48
3) Campbell – 87
4) VMI – 99
5) Coastal Carolina – 104
6) UNC Asheville – 189
7) Longwood – 195
8) Radford – 196
9) Winthrop – 237
10) Gardner-Webb – 329
11) Charleston Southern – 351
12) Presbyterian College – 368

Final Women's Team Scores
1) Coastal Carolina – 56
2) Liberty – 76
3) UNC Asheville – 78
4) High Point – 83
5) Campbell – 111
6) Winthrop – 153
7) Radford – 178
8) VMI – 208
9) Charleston Southern – 259
10) Gardner-Webb – 302
11) Longwood – 311
12) Presbyterian College – 349

Men's Runner of the Year
Patrick Crawford, High Point

Women's Runner of the Year
Letitia Saayman, Coastal Carolina

Men's Freshman of the Year
Dan Riff, Coastal Carolina

Women's Freshman of the Year
Kyla van Graan, Coastal Carolina

Men's Coach of the Year
Brant Tolsma, Liberty

Women's Coach of the Year
Alan Connie, Coastal Carolina

Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year
Caleb Edmonds, Liberty

Women's Scholar-Athlete of the Year
Jeanne Stroud, Winthrop

Men's All-Academic Team
Caleb Edmonds, Liberty

Cabell Willis, VMI
Mike McClay, Gardner-Webb
Reece Ayers, High Point
Eric Baldwin, Campbell
Evan Niciphor, Coastal Carolina
Seth Warner, Presbyterian College
Russell Reed, Longwood
Colby Coulter, Winthrop
Scott Morrison, Charleston Southern
Chris Weeks, Radford
Patrick Osborne, UNC Asheville

Women's All-Academic Team
Jeanne Stroud, Winthrop
Teresa Williamson, Radford
Emily Marchini, Coastal Carolina
Jacy Christiansen, Liberty
Melanie Kulesz, UNC Asheville
Gabriele Lesieur, Presbyterian College
Hannah Dickinson, VMI
Katie Spiro, Gardner-Webb
Katie Farina, High Point
Michelle Kaufman, Campbell
Jessie Dotson, Charleston Southern
Emily Krause, Longwood