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Chelanga Wins Again at Pre-Nationals
Watch Women's Blue Race Highlights (Courtesy of FloTrack.org)
Watch Men's White Race Highlights (Courtesy of FloTrack.org)
Watch a post-race interview with Sam Chelanga (Courtesy of FloTrack.org)
Sam Chelanga enjoyed a comfortable victory in the men's 8K white race, highlighting Liberty's showing at Saturday's Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. Meanwhile, Jennifer Klugh's 36th-place effort highlighted the Lady Flames' performance in the women's 6K blue race.
Chelanga's second career Pre-Nationals victory led the Liberty men's squad to its best finish ever at this meet, 10th place out of 36 entrants. The Flames' score of 378, also aided by Evans Kigen's 20th-place finish, put them ahead of two nationally-ranked teams. Liberty defeated No. 21 Tulsa and No. 25 Minnesota in the final standings. Two other nationally-ranked squads topped the men's white race standings, as No. 16 Oklahoma defeated No. 19 BYU by a 106-138 margin.
The Lady Flames totaled 657 points, placing 28th out of 38 teams in the women's blue race, the first of the day's six races at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. It was a five-place improvement from Liberty's showing at the 2009 Pre-Nationals and put the Lady Flames one spot ahead of Commonwealth and Southeast Region rival William & Mary. No. 3 Florida State won the team title with 115 points, followed by No. 6 Arizona's 128 team score.
As he has done many times in his career, Chelanga raced out to the front of the pack from the opening gun and never looked back. The redshirt senior clocked an impressive 4:23 opening mile over the course's undulating terrain, in his first visit to Terre Haute since winning the 2009 NCAA national title here.
The course record holder at both the 8K and 10K distances, Chelanga then went on to post a winning 8K time of 23:19.9, his best effort so far this season. Chelanga crossed the finish line 12 seconds ahead of N.C. State's Ryan Hill, as Liberty's fifth individual Pre-Nationals champion in the last six years. Josh McDougal claimed three straight Pre-Nationals crowns, between 2005 and 2007.
Kigen, who earned All-America honors at Terre Haute a season ago, made a sizable improvement from last year's Pre-Nationals race. In 2009, he placed 57th with a 24:38.2. This time around, he took advantage of the nearly ideal running conditions and firm footing to come in 20th out of 241 runners in 24:11.8.
Josh Edmonds, like Chelanga and Kigen a redshirt senior, recorded his best 8K time of the season, 24:42.9. That placed him 62nd overall. Rounding out the Flames' top five were redshirt senior Jake Reed and true freshman Josh MacDonald. Reed finished 125th with a 25:18.0, while MacDonald was 170th at 25:49.1.
Edmonds' younger brother Caleb Edmonds enjoyed a personal-best performance on Saturday. His 26:05.4 clocking netted a 190th-place finish. Mark Hopely was the Flames' No. 7 performer on the day, coming in 232nd with an official time of 27:32.5.
On the women's side, Klugh steadily moved up through the field on the rolling 6K course, before finishing with a couple program superlatives. Prior to Saturday, Liberty's best-ever women's performance at Pre-Nationals was fashioned by Piper Newby in 2007. Newby placed 63rd with a 21:22.5 effort. Klugh finished 27 places and 21 seconds ahead of Newby's performance, stopping the clock at 21:01.6. It was the second-fastest 6K in Liberty history, trailing only Klugh's record 20:58 effort from the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1.
Seniors Dacia Bushman and Hailey Neal went back and forth several times during the race, before crossing the line nearly side by side. Bushman came in 83rd out of 261 finishers in 21:32.4, with Neal just seven-tenths of a second behind her in 85th place.
Senior Rod'Esther Castor and sophomore Khristina Kanagy closed out the Lady Flames' top five. Castor was 223rd in 22:57.5, while Kanagy took 233rd in 23:11.9.
Katie Russo, the lone freshman in the Lady Flames' top seven on Saturday, came in 244th with a 23:24.0 clocking, while junior Denise Troyer was 247th in 23:30.5.
Liberty will return to action two weeks from now, at the Big South Cross Country Championships. The meet, hosted by Radford at Blacksburg Middle School, will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 30 with the women's 5K race. The men's 8K championship will follow at 11:30.
The Flames will seek their sixth straight Big South title, while the Lady Flames will attempt to defend their conference crown from 2009. Individually, Chelanga enters the meet as the two-time defending Big South men's cross country champion.