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Big South Best of the Best: Josh McDougal

September 22, 2008
|  Charlotte, N.C.
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Vote for Josh McDougal as the Big South Conference's Top Moment.

Vote for Josh McDougal as the Big South Conference's Top Moment.

View a video vignette chronicling Josh McDougal's collegiate running career

Vote for Josh McDougal as the Big South's Top Moment

As part of the Big South Conference's 25th Anniversary celebration in 2008-09, which is presented by Royal Purple, the conference is profiling each week the Top 25 "Best of the Best" moments in league history. This week's feature is the Big South's most decorated runner - former Liberty record-setter Josh McDougal.

McDougal became a household name soon after his first collegiate cross country race on Sept. 4, 2004, when he won the Festival in the Fields 6K race in Blacksburg, Va. In fact, he would go on to win all five of his regular-season cross country meets his freshman year. McDougal extended his unbeaten streak to six when he won the 2004 Big South Men's Cross Country Championship while breaking Olympian Alan Webb's course record – becoming the first and only Big South men's cross country runner to be named Runner of the Year and Freshman of the Year. He captured his seventh straight victory to begin his freshman season by winning the NCAA Southeast Regional title, setting himself up for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. At nationals, McDougal made Big South history when he became the first conference cross country runner to earn All-America honors with this 13th-place finish in the NCAA Championships. During that fall, he broke four course records in his first six races and represented the United States at the World Cross Country Championships.

McDougal continued his immediate impact in his first season, as he captured All-America honors in the 3,000-meter race at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, and qualified for outdoor nationals with conference-record performances at the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter distances. He also was named the Conference's Outdoor Track Performer and was honored as the 2004-05 Big South Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year.

In his sophomore season of 2005-06, McDougal picked up right where he left off. He became the Big South's first-ever "triple crown" All-American, as he earned four All-America honors that year -- cross country, indoor 3,000 meters, indoor 5,000 meters and outdoor 5,000 meters, increasing his career All-America total to six. He was again named the Big South Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year and the Big South Cross Country Runner of the Year. McDougal led Liberty to two Big South Championships in 2005-06 (Cross Country and Indoor Track & Field), and won every cross country race of the year until the NCAA National Championship, where he placed fourth. He set new course records with a time of 23:24 at the Stanford Invitational (breaking the record of 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi) and 23:12.6 at Pre-Nationals. He repeated as NCAA Cross Country Southeast Regional champion with a course-record time of 29:40.1.

On the track, McDougal was the Big South Indoor Track & Field champion in the mile and the 3,000 meters, and he narrowly missed posting a sub-four minute mile with a time of 4:01.63 at Liberty's Last Chance Indoor Track Meet. He captured the IC4A Indoor Track championship with a time of 7:53.16 in the 3,000 meters, besting a facility record that had stood since 1981. He later placed fifth in the 3,000 meters and fourth in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. In the outdoor campaign, McDougal was conference champion in the 1,500 meters with a time of 3:45.01. He also was a Penn Relays champion in the 5,000 meters with a time of 13:55.59 and the IC4A Outdoor Track champion in the 10,000 meters with a time of 29:21.13. At the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, McDougal finished ninth overall and was the third-best American in the race with a time of 14:24.17, earning his first career All-America honor in outdoor track. He capped his sophomore season by being named the Big South Conference Howard Bagwell Male Athlete of the Year.

McDougal nearly doubled his career All-America honors his junior season of 2006-07, as he earned five All-America accolades – cross country, two indoor track and two outdoor track – to bring his career total to 11. He was named Big South Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the third year in succession. He placed 27th at the NCAA National Cross Country Championships, and his cross country campaign also included five first-place finishes. Among them were titles at the Roy Griak Invitational, Pre-Nationals and his third-straight Big South Cross Country Championship title and Conference Cross Country Runner of the Year award.

He capped off the indoor track season with a third-place finish at 3,000 meters and an eight-place effort at 5,000 meters at the NCAA National Indoor Track & Field Championships. He won the IC4A indoor 5,000-meter title in a time of 13:37.32, which ranked as the fastest in the world on a regulation track during the indoor season. He was voted as the Big South Men's Outstanding Track Performer in Indoor Track for the second straight year after winning the Conference mile and 3,000-meter titles, setting a meet record (7:58.27) in the latter. McDougal later was the only male to run both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter events at the NCAA National Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where he placed third in the 10,000 final and fourth in the 5,000. For his efforts in 2006-07, he was recognized as the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Southeast District Men's Track Athlete of the Year.

Also during 2006-07, McDougal became the first Big South athlete to run a sub-4:00 mile, clocking a 3:57.46 at the ASICS Collegiate Invitational on March 31. He became the No. 5 collegiate performer of all-time at 5,000 meters after running a 13:20.43 at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 13, and he set a Liberty and conference record (28:27.65) at 10,000 meters at the April 29 Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational. At the Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, McDougal won the 1,500, 5,000 (meet-record 14:06.88) and 10,000-meter events. He later became the first athlete in the 131-year history of the IC4A Outdoor Track & Field Championships to sweep the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000-meter races.

McDougal reached the pinnacle his senior season. He became the first Big South runner ever to win the individual conference cross country championship all four years and was just the 10th individual nationally to be a four-time conference cross country champion. He won all five of his races that fall, including his third NCAA Southeast Regional victory and third straight NCAA Pre-Nationals title. But his defining victory occurred on Monday, Nov. 19, 2007, when McDougal became just the second individual National Champion in Big South history by winning the NCAA Cross Country Championship in thrilling fashion.

McDougal outkicked Oregon's Galen Rupp in the stretch run to win, and his time of 29:22.4 in the 10K race eclipsed his own Liberty and Big South Conference records for the 10K distance. Weather conditions were nearly perfect for the race, as the temperature hovered in the 50s under an overcast sky. Additionally, the course was almost completely dry, a stark contrast to the muddy track runners slogged through in 2006. The pace went out conservatively for the first half of the race, as the lead pack went through the one-mile mark in 4:39 and passed through 5K in 15:08. McDougal hung with the leaders through the early stages, staying out of traffic. Shortly after the halfway pole, the pace quickened. By the four-mile mark, only eight runners remained in contention. Less than a mile later, McDougal and Rupp had broken clear of the field, turning the last 2K into a two-man race between a pair of runners seeking their first national titles.

McDougal started a long drive to the finish line just over 1,000 meters out and was able to open a 10-15 meter lead on Rupp, the American collegiate 10K record holder on the track. However, Rupp was not finished. The Oregon junior summoned a final kick of his own and reclaimed the lead within the final 400 meters. With the runners side-by-side down the final straightaway, McDougal pulled ahead slightly in the last 50 meters and held on for the one-second win and a long sought-after national title. The Liberty senior flung open his arms and looked skyward as he crossed the finish line, celebrating the Flames' first-ever individual national cross country title. For his efforts that fall, McDougal was recognized by the USTFCCCA as Division I National Men's Athlete of the Year and Southeast Region Men's Athlete of the Year.

With his first national championship and 12 All-America honors, McDougal moved into the indoor season, which produced conference championships in the mile and 3,000 meters – increasing his number of career Big South individual titles to 17. He also claimed a pair of All-America honors at the 2008 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, placing fifth at 5,000 meters and sixth at 3,000 meters. He also was honored as the USTFCCCA Division I Southeast Region Men's Track Athlete of the Year for the indoor track campaign, and was voted Men's Outstanding Track Performer at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships for the third consecutive season. McDougal's outdoor season was limited due to an injury, but he still posted an outdoor 5,000-meter time of 13:37.13 at the Mt. SAC Relays to rank No. 6 on the NCAA year-end performance list.

McDougal ended his collegiate career as a 14-time All-American, including four All-America honors in cross country and two All-America "triple crowns" in 2005-06 and 2006-07. He won 23 of his 27 career cross country races, with three of the four losses coming at the national meet. He is also the first three-time recipient of the Big South Conference Howard Bagwell Male Athlete of the Year award and the first four-time Big South Male Track & Field Athlete of the Year honoree. McDougal has signed a professional contract with Nike, but is still recovering from the injury which cut his senior track season short. He hopes to return to training soon, with marathons and qualification for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field team among his future goals.

McDougal's distinguished running career is one of the Top 25 "Best of the Best" moments in league history. The conference is conducting an online fan poll to help determine the Top Moment in the first 25 years of the Big South Conference. Voting is open on www.BigSouthSports.com and continues through March 25. Fan voting will be combined with the 25th Anniversary Committee's votes to come up with the official rank order of the "Best of the Best" moments. The countdown will be unveiled at the concluding 25th Anniversary banquet in May 2009.