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NCAA XC National Championships Set for Monday

November 21, 2008
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Sam Chelanga and Jordan McDougal will toe the line for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.

Sam Chelanga and Jordan McDougal will toe the line for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.

At the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Liberty's Josh McDougal captured his first national title by holding off Oregon's Galen Rupp in a memorable stretch-run duel. This Monday, the Flames are hoping to produce another banner performance in Terre Haute, Ind. Senior Jordan McDougal is making his first NCAA national meet appearance and sophomore Sam Chelanga is expected to contend with Rupp for first-place honors, in the men's 10K national championship race.

2008 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's National Cross Country Championships
Date: Monday, Nov. 24
Time: 12:08 p.m. – Women's 6K championship, 12:48 p.m. – Men's 10K championship
Location: LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course (Terre Haute, Ind.)
Television: CBS College Sports from noon-1:30 p.m. (Free video streaming available on www.ncaa.com)

Men's Individual Outlook
Sam Chelanga (Nairobi, Kenya)
How He Got Here: Chelanga opened up with a hard pace at the Nov. 15 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships in Clemmons, N.C., building a 10-second lead by the end of the first kilometer. He then cruised to a 24-second victory over N.C. State's Bobby Mack.

Season at a Glance: Chelanga is unbeaten in his first cross country season at Liberty. He opened the year by teaming with Mark Hopely (R-Fr., Carney's Point, N.J.) for a first-place finish at the Virginia Tech Cross Country Relay on Sept. 5. He followed with individual titles at the Brooks Paul Short Run (Oct. 3), Pre-Nationals (Oct. 18), New Balance Big South Championship (Nov. 1) and NCAA Southeast Regional Championship (Nov. 15).

No runner has come within 23 seconds of Chelanga all season. His most impressive performance came at the Pre-Nationals on Oct. 18, when he raced to a 4:18 opening mile and never looked back. Chelanga's official 8K time of 22:51.3 broke the meet, course, Liberty and Big South records formerly held by Josh McDougal.

NCAA Championship History:
2006 NCAA Division I Cross Country – 16th place (1st freshman), 31:20.2
2007 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field (5,000 meters) – 4th place (1st freshman), 13:47.39
2007 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field (5,000 meters) – Did not qualify for final

Liberty Head Coach Brant Tolsma's Thoughts: "Like everybody else, we're looking forward to a Rupp-Chelanga showdown. It appears both of them are ready to run well, and it should make for an exciting race. Neither one has been challenged the entire year.

"Ever since Josh [McDougal] defeated Galen [Rupp] last year, I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn't it be nice if we had a similar result next year, only with a different runner in the Liberty uniform?' Now, I'm not the only one thinking that way.

"Sam is really looking forward to this race. He likes competition and hasn't had much for quite a while."

Jordan McDougal (Peru, N.Y.)
How He Got Here:
McDougal earned one of the final at-large qualifying positions on the strength of his 12th-place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships. An All-Region performer for the second consecutive season, McDougal clocked a 30:55.8 on the 10K course.

Season at a Glance: Two of McDougal's season highlights came at the Liberty Cross Country Course. He won the first-ever meet at the course, edging teammate Josh Edmonds (Jr., Cooperstown, N.Y.) at the finish line of the Liberty Big South Preview on Sept. 20. McDougal then came on strong during the final 800 meters of the Big South Championship to capture conference runner-up honors for the second year in a row.

NCAA Championship History: McDougal is making his first appearance at a NCAA national meet in either cross country or track & field. He narrowly missed qualifying for the 2007 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, after finishing 16th at the Southeast Regional Championships

Liberty Head Coach Brant Tolsma's Thoughts: "Jordan has been struggling with a hip issue all season. We're hoping it will hold up well through Monday's race. This is a nice way for Jordan to end his cross country career—finally getting his opportunity to run at the national meet."

Other Men's Runners to Watch
Galen Rupp – Oregon Senior

Rupp is one of the best distance runners in NCAA history, owning eight All-America honors, including last year's runner-up finish at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. However, he is still in search of his first individual national title. A member of the U.S. Olympic Team, Rupp finished 13th in the men's 10,000-meter final at the Beijing Olympic Games. He has posted a pair of impressive performances this fall, soundly defeating his competition at the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA Division I West Regional Championships. His time of 27:41 at the regional meet was one of the fastest ever recorded in a collegiate cross country race.

Shadrack Songok – Texas A&M Senior
Songok, the NCAA South Central Regional champion, is the most highly decorated runner participating in Monday's race. The native of Kabiyet, Kenya is running for Texas A&M this fall, after donning a Texas A&M-Corpus Christi uniform the past three seasons. He is a three-time NCAA national champion on the track, capturing outdoor 10,000-meter crowns in both 2007 and 2008 and nabbing the indoor 5,000-meter championship in 2008.

The Precocious Freshmen (Oklahoma State's German Fernandez, Stanford's Chris Derrick and Oregon's Luke Puskedra)
Fernandez grabbed the attention of the running community last year, as a high school senior at Riverbank High School. His two-mile time of 8:34.40 broke a 29-year-old American high school record. During his first cross country season, Fernandez captured the Big 12 individual championship and has helped Oklahoma State achieve a No. 2 national ranking.

Meanwhile, Derrick and Puskedra have also made an immediate impact as freshmen. Puskedra finished second and the traditionally fast-closing Derrick was third at the Pac-10 Championships on Oct. 31.

However, it is a rare occurrence for a freshman to win the NCAA national cross country title. It has only been done three times in the 70-year of the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Washington State's Henry Rono won in 1976, Indiana's Bob Kennedy was victorious in 1988 and, most recently, South Alabama's David Kimani captured the 1999 national title as a freshman.

Notes
Liberty has had two NCAA Division I national champions in school history: current assistant coach Heather (Sagan) Zealand in the mile at the 2002 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and McDougal's cross country title last season. 

Four schools have had two different men's runners capture back-to-back national cross country championships—Kansas in 1953 and 1954, UTEP in 1980 and 1981, Iowa State in 1989 and 1990 and Colorado in 2002 and 2003. 

Chelanga and Rupp raced against one another twice during Chelanga's freshman year, with Rupp winning both meetings. Rupp finished sixth at the 2006 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, while Chelanga placed 16th. Then, Rupp came in third in the 5,000-meter final at the 2007 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, with Chelanga following him across the line in fourth.

This is the first time Liberty has sent multiple runners to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.