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Liberty Aims to Defend Big South XC Titles
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The first two Big South Conference championships of the 2010-11 athletic year will be awarded Saturday in Blacksburg, Va., at the Big South Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships. The Liberty men's and women's cross country squads both enter the meet at Blacksburg Middle School as the defending conference champions.
The meet will get started at 10:30 a.m., when the gun goes off for the women's 5K championship. The Lady Flames won the 2009 conference title and have taken three of the last four Big South championships. The men's 8K race will follow at 11:30 a.m., featuring the five-time defending Big South champion Liberty squad.
How to Follow the Flames
LibertyFlames.com will be on hand in Blacksburg, and fans can keep an eye on the website's official Twitter account (twitter.com/libertyflames) for text and photo updates throughout both of Saturday's races.
Saturday's weather should be ideal for cross country running. The forecast calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 63 degrees in Blacksburg, with very little wind expected.
The course at Blacksburg Middle School features a number of hills and runs considerably slower than most other courses, as evidenced by the results of the Big South Preview on Sept. 25. Only three Lady Flames (Meg Bowles, Chenoa Freeman and Amy Passauer) competed that day, but VMI's results are illustrative of this point.
Keydet Ermin Mujezinovic clocked a 26:43 to place fifth in the men's 8K at the Big South Preview. One week later, he sliced his 8K time to 25:08 at the Charlotte Invitational. Similarly, VMI's Jenna Moye dropped her 5K time from 19:05 at Blacksburg to 18:14 the following week in Charlotte. In general, times appeared to be approximately a minute slower at Blacksburg Middle School than on a primarily flat course.
Women's Team Preview
As previously mentioned, Liberty won the 2009 Big South women's cross country title. The Lady Flames totaled 47 points, outdistancing runner-up VMI by 19 tallies. Liberty's top seven finishers from that race in Winston-Salem, N.C., will compete on Saturday, led by the trio of senior Dacia Bushman, redshirt sophomore Jennifer Klugh and senior Hailey Neal.
Liberty was tabbed the preseason Big South favorite and is the only conference team currently ranked in the Southeast Region, at No. 10. However, the Lady Flames are expected to be challenged on Saturday by Coastal Carolina, High Point and VMI.
Other Team Challengers
Coastal Carolina – Any discussion of a Big South women's cross country or track & field championship meet has to include the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Coach Alan Connie's squad has won a conference-best 12 Big South women's cross country titles, most recently capturing a one-point victory over the Lady Flames in 2008.
This year's team boasts a lot of new faces, including redshirt senior standout Jamie Brusa, a transfer from Illinois, and freshmen Seanna Kautz and Emily Marchini. The Chanticleers' top returnee from the 2009 Big South meet is seventh-place finisher Janel Reeves, the younger sister of Liberty men's cross country runner Will Reeves.
High Point – High Point, seeking its first Big South title, has steadily improved as the year has progressed. In the Panthers' most recent meet, the Blue Ridge Open on Oct. 15, they defeated less-than-complete Coastal Carolina and VMI teams. Senior Emily Webb, who placed eighth at the 2009 Big South meet, led a pack of four Panthers separated by only 24 seconds.
VMI – The Keydets have been making a steady upward progression in the Big South cross country ranks, under the direction of distance coach Paul Spangler. VMI placed eighth in 2006, before improving to fifth in 2007, fourth in 2008 and second a season ago. This time around, the Keydets are hoping to claim the school's first Big South Conference team title in any sport.
VMI will be led by senior Hannah Granger, the defending Big South cross country champion. She is complemented by 2009 Big South Freshman of the Year Jenna Moye and a top contender to win this year's Freshman of the Year honor, Tammy Cheung. The trio finished 1-2-3 at the Big South Preview meet at Blacksburg Middle School on Sept. 25, leading the Keydets to a resounding team victory.
-- Coastal Carolina (six titles) and Liberty (four titles) have combined to win the last 10 Big South women's cross country championships since UNC Asheville's back-to-back titles in 1998 and 1999.
-- Liberty has finished in the top two at each of the last six Big South women's cross country meets, including victories in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2005 and 2008.
-- Liberty is attempting to win a Big South women's cross country title within the Commonwealth of Virginia for the first time. The Lady Flames were not victorious in the 1993, 1998, 2005 and 2008 conference meets held in Virginia.
-- Liberty's 19-point margin of victory at the 2009 Big South Championship broke a recent trend of tight finishes. The top two teams were separated by five points in 2006, three points in 2007 and a single point in 2008.
-- No Big South women's team champion has boasted the individual winner since 2005, when Anne Marie Moutsinga led her Coastal Carolina squad to victory.
Women's Individual Preview
No Lady Flame has won the Big South women's cross country title since 2001, when Heather Sagan won the second of her back-to-back conference championships. Liberty hopes to end the individual title drought Saturday, when Bushman, Klugh and Neal all hope to contend for victory.
Bushman is a two-time All-Big South cross country runner, placing sixth to earn Freshman of the Year honors in 2007 and taking the runner-up position a year ago. She has also come close to winning a pair of Big South titles on the track, finishing second in both the outdoor 10K in 2009 and the indoor 5K in 2010.
Bushman clocked the fourth-fastest 6K in program history, 21:17, Oct. 1 at the Brooks Paul Short Run. She also owns the fastest 10K personal-best time in the field, at 36:43.19.
Klugh has served as the Lady Flames' No. 1 runner throughout the 2010 season and has twice been named Big South Women's Cross Country Runner of the Week. She has posted the two fastest 6K times in program history this year, a 20:58 at the Brooks Paul Short Run (Oct. 1) and a 21:01.6 at Pre-Nationals (Oct. 16).
Like Bushman, Klugh has narrowly missed winning Big South races on several occasions. She came in third at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship, before crossing the line second in the indoor mile, indoor 3K and outdoor 5K events. If the race comes down to a closing kick, it could favor Klugh, who owns a fine 4:27.82 personal best in the 1,500-meter run.
Neal hopes to make a huge jump forward this year, after placing 12th in her first visit to the Big South Cross Country Championships in 2009. The Sunshine State native went on to enjoy a strong track & field season, including a conference title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Neal has also fared well thus far in the 2010 cross country campaign, winning Big South Runner of the Week honors on Sept. 22 and posting the seventh-fastest 6K in Liberty history (21:27) at the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1.
Other Individual Challengers (Listed in alphabetical order)
Jamie Brusa, Coastal Carolina – Brusa, who ran alongside defending NCAA national cross country champion Angela Bizzarri last season at Illinois, has made an immediate impact after transferring to Coastal Carolina for her final season. She has been the Chanticleers' top finisher in each of her races and was tabbed Big South Runner of the Week on Sept. 8.
Tammy Cheung, VMI – Cheung has run just two races in a VMI uniform during her young career, but both have been impressive. She placed second to teammate Hannah Granger at the Big South Preview on Sept. 25, clocking a time of 19:00 on the challenging 5K course. Cheung then finished 24th overall at the Blue Ridge Open on Oct. 15.
Hannah Granger, VMI – Granger, the defending Big South women's cross country champion, is the most highly-decorated runner in the field. She also captured Big South individual titles in the outdoor 10K in 2009, as well as the indoor 5K in 2010. Granger, a nine-time All-Big South performer (including cross country and track & field), has rewritten VMI's record book during her four years in Lexington.
Granger won the Big South Preview on Sept. 25, in a time of 18:57. That could be a good omen for the senior, as the last two women's winners of the Big South Preview have gone on to claim victory at the Big South Championship.
Jenna Moye, VMI – Moye enjoyed a stellar freshman cross country season for the Keydets, before injury cut her track campaign short. She placed fourth at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship, garnering Big South Freshman of the Year honors. Moye appears to be back in top form in 2010, as evidenced by her third-place showing at the Big South Preview (Sept. 25).
-- Liberty has only won two Big South women's cross country individual titles in program history, Heather Sagan's back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001.
-- Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina has captured 14 women's individual crowns in the 24-year history of the meet.
-- Since Sagan's victory in 2001, Lady Flames have claimed runner-up honors four times, including Sarah Roberts in 2005, Piper Newby in 2007, Rebekah Ricksecker in 2008 and Dacia Bushman in 2009.
-- The trio of Dacia Bushman, Jennifer Klugh and Hailey Neal hopes to give Liberty three runners in the top five for the first time at the Big South Women's Cross Country Championship. Coastal Carolina has achieved the feat eight times, most recently in 2006.
-- Every time Liberty has won the Big South women's cross country title, its No. 1 runner has placed in the top three.
-- If Dacia Bushman places in the top 10, she will become the fifth Lady Flame ever to finish her career with three All-Big South honors in cross country. Urlene Dick, Samantha Pelletier, Rebekah Ricksecker and Sarah Roberts also belong to that exclusive club.
-- No women's runner has won consecutive Big South cross country titles since Coastal Carolina's Anne Marie Moutsinga in 2002 and 2003.
-- Jennifer Klugh has notched the two fastest 6K times in Liberty history this season, but the program 5K record should remain safe, due to the difficulty of the Blacksburg Middle School course. Lori Lingenfelter has owned the program 5K mark of 17:35 since 1987.
Men's Team Preview
Liberty enters Saturday's meet as the favorite to win its sixth consecutive Big South men's team title. The veteran Flames team is headlined by defending NCAA national cross country champion Sam Chelanga and 2009 NCAA cross country All-American Evans Kigen.
The Flames enter the meet ranked No. 7 in the Southeast Region, on the heels of an impressive performance at Pre-Nationals, Oct. 16 in Terre Haute, Ind. Liberty placed 10th in the white race, the highest Pre-Nationals placing in program history and ahead of nationally-ranked Tulsa and Minnesota.
In addition to Chelanga (two-time defending Big South champion) and Kigen (2009 Big South runner-up), Liberty's roster also features Josh Edmonds, Jake Reed and David Ricksecker, who have combined for six All-Big South finishes in men's cross country.
Liberty's stiffest competition figures to come from High Point and VMI.
Other Team Challengers
High Point – High Point has finished second behind Liberty at the Big South Men's Cross Country Championship each of the past three seasons, and the Panthers have combined with the Flames to win every Big South men's cross country title since 2002.
Like the Flames, High Point has been regularly ranked in the Southeast Region throughout the year. The Panthers are No. 11 in the most recent regional poll.
Liberty and High Point have met one another once this season, at the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1. The Flames finished eighth that day, while the Panthers were 14th. Junior Neal Darmody (39th place) and freshman Patrick Crawford (46th place) both defeated Josh Edmonds, who placed 53rd in the race.
VMI – VMI figures to contend, thanks to a nice mixture of experience (Felix Kitur and Ermin Mujezinovic) and youth (Andrey Dmitriev and Cabell Willis). Mujezinovic placed eighth at the 2008 Big South meet, while Kitur was a 2010 NCAA national qualifier at 800 meters. The Keydets placed a close second to High Point at the Big South Preview meet, with Mujezinovic coming in fifth and Willis taking sixth place.
-- The only men's cross country team ever to win six straight Big South titles was Radford, from 1985 to 1990. Liberty did not join the conference until 1991.
-- Liberty has won a conference-high 11 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 19 seasons as a conference member.
-- Josh Edmonds has not experienced defeat at a Big South meet since he arrived on campus in the fall of 2006. Liberty has swept the conference cross country, indoor track and outdoor track team championships each of the past four years.
-- Liberty's five consecutive Big South championships have been won by an average of 30.4 points. Last season's 13-point victory over High Point was the closest any Big South team has come to unseating the Flames in the last five years.
-- Liberty has enjoyed seven straight top-two finishes at the Big South meet. Prior to the Flames' five straight championships, Liberty finished second behind High Point in 2003 and 2004.
-- The Flames have had the Big South individual champion 10 of the 11 times they have won the Big South men's team championship. The only exception came in 1994, when Bill Khan placed second overall, while leading Liberty to a team title.
Men's Individual Preview
Liberty has boasted 14 men's individual champions in its 19 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships, including six in a row. Josh McDougal won four straight Big South titles between 2004 and 2007, before Chelanga's first-place finishes in 2008 and 2009.
Chelanga, looking to join former Liberty standouts Stephen Githuka (1997-99) and McDougal (2004-07) as a winner of three straight Big South championships, has been sharp in each of his two races this season. The nine-time All-American cruised to comfortable victories at both the Brooks Paul Short Run (Oct. 1) and Pre-Nationals (Oct. 16), garnering Big South Runner of the Week distinction both times.
Chelanga has only lost three races in his collegiate cross country career, and two of the three setbacks have come at the NCAA national meet. He has won all seven Big South individual races he has ever entered, including five conference titles on the track.
Sometimes overshadowed by Chelanga, Kigen is also enjoying a strong senior season for the Flames. The Big South Runner of the Week on Sept. 22, he lowered his 8K personal-best time to 24:09 at the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1.
The 2009 Big South cross country runner-up, Kigen is a four-time Big South champion on the track. He successfully completed the steeplechase/5K double at both the 2008 and 2010 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, sandwiching a redshirt season.
Edmonds has been a steady performer throughout his career at Liberty, placing ninth at the Big South meet in 2006, sixth in 2007 and fourth in 2008, before redshirting the 2009 season. A top-10 finish on Saturday would enable him to join McDougal as the only Flames ever to earn a quartet of All-Big South cross country honors.
Other Individual Challengers (Listed in alphabetical order)
Patrick Crawford, High Point – Crawford opened his collegiate career by earning Big South Runner of the Week laurels on Sept. 8 and has not slowed down. The favorite to capture the Big South Freshman of the Year award on Saturday, Crawford was third at the Big South Preview on Sept. 25 and ran a personal-best 8K time of 24:51 the following week at the Brooks Paul Short Run.
Neal Darmody, High Point – Darmody, who placed seventh at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship, has really come on in his last two races. He led the Panthers with a 39th-place finish at the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1, before winning the Oct. 15 Blue Ridge Open in a stellar 8K time of 24:35.9.
Adam Freudenthal, Winthrop – Freudenthal has won more races than Sam Chelanga in 2010. His three victories include triumphs at the South Carolina Intercollegiate Championship, the Big South Preview and the Winthrop Classic. The junior's victory in Blacksburg on Sept. 25 came by a six-second margin over High Point's Jevin Monds.
Kyle Kling, Coastal Carolina – Kling is the top returnee from the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship not named Chelanga or Kigen. The Coastal Carolina junior took fifth place a year ago and made a successful tune-up for the conference meet at the Oct. 22 Mount Olive Invitational. Kling won the race and garnered Big South Runner of the Week distinction as a result.
-- 10 Liberty runners (including Josh Edmonds) have earned at least three All-Big South cross country honors during their career. That number could grow Saturday, with both Sam Chelanga and Jake Reed owning two previous All-Big South awards.
-- If Edmonds succeeds in earning his fourth All-Big South honor, he would become just the sixth Big South men's cross country runner ever to do so.
-- Edmonds has enjoyed past success during cross country races in Blacksburg. He won the individual title at the 2007 Virginia Tech Invitational in a course-record time. Edmonds then recorded the fastest combined 7K time (21:11) of any runner at the season-opening Virginia Tech Cross Country Relays on Sept. 3. Both of those races were contested on Virginia Tech's campus.
-- Liberty's Chelanga, Kigen and Edmonds hope to continue a recent trend. Four times in the last five years, a trio of Flames have placed among the top five at the Big South meet, including 1-2-3 sweeps in 2006 and 2007.
-- Twice in program history (1997 and 1999), Liberty has posted four of the top five men's runners at the Big South Cross Country Championship.
-- The fastest 8K time ever recorded by a Liberty Flame at the Big South Men's Cross Country Championship is 23:49, by Josh McDougal in 2004 at Winthrop. Sam Chelanga just missed that clocking last year, running a 23:50 in Winston-Salem, N.C.