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Liberty XC Teams Ready for Regional Meet
For the first time, Wake Forest will play host to the regional meet at Tanglewood Park. The women's 6K championship is slated for 11 a.m., with the men's 10K championship to follow at noon. The top two teams and the top four individuals not on a qualifying team in each race will earn automatic qualification to the national meet. Meanwhile, the next several teams and the next two individuals will be eligible for at-large consideration.
If the ground was dry, the course at Tanglewood Park would lend itself to fast times, as it is "primarily flat with a few small rolling hills and undulations," according to Wake Forest's informational webpage. However, rain is in the forecast for Friday and Saturday, which would soften the terrain and slow down the runners' times.
A race-by-race preview follows.
Women's 6K Championship – 11 a.m.
Team Outlook: The Big South runner-up Lady Flames enter Saturday's meet ranked No. 14 in the region, just one spot behind conference rival Coastal Carolina. Liberty recorded its highest-ever regional finish, seventh, last season. However, the Lady Flames lost that team's No. 1 runner, Piper Newby, to graduation and their No. 5 runner, Katie Albright (So., Wake Forest, N.C.) to injury. As a result, head coach Brant Tolsma commented, "We have our work cut out for us. We would like to finish better than our No. 14 ranking."
Another goal for the Lady Flames is to defeat Big South foes Coastal Carolina and High Point. The three teams waged an extremely tight battle at the New Balance Big South Cross Country Championships, Nov. 1 at Liberty. Coastal Carolina won the conference title, with Liberty one point behind and High Point just four points back. All three teams are among the 45 entrants in Saturday's regional race. The Lady Flames would especially like to defeat Coastal Carolina, as the Chanticleers have beat Liberty three times this season, by a total of just 25 combined points.
Individual Outlook: Senior Rebekah Ricksecker (Laurel, Del.) has been Liberty's top runner all season. The Big South runner-up, she has recorded the top 6K time of any conference runner this season, a 21:34 at the Pre-Nationals on Oct. 18. On a dry day, she could set her sights on Newby's school record of 21:07, achieved at last year's regional meet. Additionally, "All-Region is a possibility if Rebekah runs a really good race," stated Tolsma. Last season, Newby earned All-Southeast Region distinction by virtue of her 17th-place showing.
Ricksecker finished 52nd at the regional meet a season ago, but sophomore Dacia Bushman (Castalia, Iowa) is the Lady Flames' top returning finisher. She ran a Liberty freshman-record time of 21:39 at the 2007 regional meet, netting 44th place.
Men's 10K Championship – Noon
Team Outlook: Like the Lady Flames, the Liberty men's squad is coming off its best-ever showing at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships in 2007, a fifth-place finish. The four-time defending Big South champion Flames are currently ranked No. 7 in the region. Qualifying for the national meet as a team for the first time in program history has been one of Liberty's stated goals all season. In order to do so, the Flames will likely need to defeat either Virginia, N.C. State or William & Mary.
"We need to run our best meet of the year, and also probably need one of the top three teams to falter," noted Tolsma. "If we would defeat Virginia, N.C. State or William & Mary, we might get pushed into the national meet."
Liberty has enjoyed strong frontrunning all season, as evidenced by their showing at the Nov. 1 New Balance Big South Cross Country Championships. That morning, the Flames put three runners—Sam Chelanga (R-So., Nairobi, Kenya), Jordan McDougal (R-Sr., Peru, N.Y.) and Josh Edmonds (Jr., Cooperstown, N.Y.)—among the top four finishers. However, they will need a full team effort on Saturday.
Individual Outlook: Chelanga has been one of the best runners in the nation during his first season at Liberty, winning each of his first four races in impressive fashion. He is hoping for one more strong performance, which would enable him to qualify for the national meet for the second time in his career. Chelanga was the highest-finishing freshman at the 2006 NCAA Division I National Cross Country Championships, placing 16th overall.
Tolsma feels pretty good about Chelanga's chances, despite a bit of recent adversity. "There are no guarantees in athletics, but Sam is as close to a guarantee as there can be. However, he's been feeling a bit under the weather this week." Chelanga is hoping to give Liberty its fourth regional champion in the last five years. Former teammate Josh McDougal captured a trio of regional titles, in 2004, 2005 and 2007.
McDougal's younger brother, Jordan McDougal, is hoping for his first NCAA national meet appearance, after narrowly missing individual qualification in 2007. Last year, McDougal placed 16th overall at the regional meet, in a personal-best 10K time of 30:27. The Big South runner-up behind Chelanga, McDougal has enjoyed a strong senior campaign and has plenty of motivation for Saturday's race. "This is Jordan's last chance to get to the national meet," observed Tolsma. "So, he's really shooting for that."