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Flames Ready to Race in NCAA Regional Meet
The Big South Conference champion Liberty men's and women's cross country teams will now test themselves against the top squads in the region. The Flames and Lady Flames will head to Louisville, Ky. on Saturday for the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships. The meet will determine the team and individual qualifiers for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The women's 6K will be the first race of the day at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park, with the gun scheduled to go off at 10 a.m. The men's 10K will then begin at 11:15 a.m. at the site of the 2012 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
Men's Tentative Lineup
Women's Tentative Lineup
After an unseasonably warm week with abundant sunshine, the weather might not be quite as nice in Louisville by Saturday. The forecast calls for a high of 60 degrees and a chance of rain showers.
The course at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park is mostly flat and traditionally yields some fast times. At this year's Greater Louisville Classic, 12 men's runners broke 24 minutes in the 8K, while 14 women's runners went sub-17:30 for the 5K.
E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park regularly hosts championship cross country meets. This is the fourth time in the last five years the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships have been contested in Louisville. The course has also been the site of five NAIA National Championships and is set to host both the 2010 NCAA Division II National Championships and the 2012 NCAA Division I National Championships.
How to Punch Your Ticket to Terre Haute
The common goal for all 40 men's teams and all 39 women's teams competing in Louisville on Saturday is to qualify for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind. Here's what it takes:
Team Qualification: The top two teams at each of the nine regional meets will automatically advance to the national meet. The national field will then be filled with 13 at-large selections. These will be determined using a formula based upon head-to-head success against other national qualifiers. For example, the Liberty men's team's victories over nationally-ranked Minnesota and Tulsa at this year's Pre-Nationals meet could be beneficial during this selection process.
The men's race in Louisville could see as many as five or six teams advance to Terre Haute. Six squads enter the weekend ranked among the nation's Top 30, including No. 16 N.C. State, No. 18 North Carolina, No. 19 William & Mary, No. 20 Louisville, No. 21 Virginia and No. 23 Duke.
Several Southeast Region women's teams could also garner at-large consideration this weekend. Four regional squads appear in the most recent national poll, including No. 12 Virginia, No. 17 Duke, No. 21 North Carolina and No. 29 N.C. State.
Individual Qualification: All runners who place in the top 25 at the regional meet earn all-region recognition and become eligible for advancement to Terre Haute. The national meet features 38 individual competitors not on advancing teams. The top four finishers from each regional meet who are not part of a national-qualifying squad will punch their ticket to Terre Haute. Then, two at-large individuals will be added to round out the national field.
In summary, the only people who will know for sure that they are bound for Terre Haute on Saturday are the top two teams in each race and the first four individuals who cross the finish line. The full field of team and individual qualifiers to Terre Haute will be revealed Sunday evening on NCAA.com.
Women's Meet Preview
Team Outlook: The Lady Flames enter the meet ranked No. 10 in the Southeast Region, which has them poised to potentially post one of the highest regional finishes in program history. Liberty has finished inside the top 10 twice at this meet, coming in seventh in 2007 and ninth in 2000.
It will be tough for Liberty to advance to Terre Haute as a team out of this region, but the Lady Flames aim to build upon their most impressive performance of the season at the Oct. 30 Big South Championship. Conference champion Jennifer Klugh, third-place Dacia Bushman and fourth-place Hailey Neal continued their season-long impressive front-running. They were complemented by a pair of sophomores making breakthrough performances. Khristina Kanagy and Betel Yosef came in 12th and 19th, respectively, helping Liberty claim a 25-point victory.
Interestingly, the Lady Flames will run the exact same lineup as they did at the 2009 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championship. Liberty's seven entrants include Klugh, Bushman, Neal, Kanagy, Yosef, senior Rod'Esther Castor and junior Denise Troyer. The Lady Flames certainly hope to improve upon last year's 18th-place regional finish.
Individual Outlook: Klugh, a redshirt sophomore who became Liberty's first Big South women's cross country individual champion since Heather Sagan in 2001, carries the Lady Flames' best hope of individual qualification to Terre Haute. Ironically, Sagan went on to reach the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships that same year, marking the Lady Flames' most recent national qualifier on the women's side.
Klugh has rewritten Liberty's cross country record book at the 6K distance this season, the distance which will be covered in Saturday's race. She now owns the two fastest 6K clockings in program history, a 20:58 from the Oct. 2 Brooks Paul Short Run and a 21:01.6 two weeks later at Pre-Nationals.
Seniors Bushman and Neal will also hope to prolong their collegiate cross country careers with impressive races on Saturday. Bushman is the third-fastest 6K runner in program history at 21:17, while Neal ranks No. 5 in program history at 21:27.
Piper Newby, who held the Liberty women's cross country 6K school record before Klugh broke it, has posted the program's fastest time ever at the regional meet. She clocked a then school-record 21:07.7 to place 17th at the 2007 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, which were held at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
Sagan's sixth-place showing at the 2001 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships is the best individual placing by a Lady Flame at the regional meet.
Men's Meet Preview
Team Outlook: The Liberty men's cross country team has had this meet circled on its collective calendar for quite some time. With four redshirt seniors among the Flames' top five runners, headlined by Sam Chelanga and Evans Kigen, this could be Liberty's best chance ever to qualify a full team to Terre Haute.
The Flames have been ranked as high as No. 7 in the region this year and reside in the No. 9 spot in the most recent listing. It will most likely require a top five regional finish on Saturday, ahead of a couple nationally-ranked teams, to have a chance at national qualification. The Flames' highest team finishes at the regional meet were back-to-back fifth-place showings in 2007 and 2008.
The trio of Chelanga, Kigen and Josh Edmonds figure to give the Flames a formidable 1-2-3 punch, after sweeping the top three spots at the Big South Championships on Oct. 30. The key to Liberty's success will likely come down to the performance of the team's No. 4 and 5 runners, however.
Liberty will be running a 10K race for the first time this season, and the extended distance could benefit the Flames. Chelanga, Edmonds and Jake Reed especially have typically been at their best at the 10K distance throughout their careers, as opposed to shorter races.
Individual Outlook: If the Flames are unable to qualify to the national meet as a team, Chelanga, Kigen and Edmonds should all be in the hunt for individual berths. The Liberty men's squad has enjoyed considerable individual success at the regional meet in recent years. The Flames boast five of the last six regional individual champions and have sent a pair of individuals to Terre Haute each of the last two seasons.
Chelanga, undefeated in three races this season, enters Saturday's meet as the clear favorite. The defending NCAA national champion, he is attempting to become a four-time regional champion during his collegiate career. Prior to winning consecutive Southeast Regional crowns in 2008 and 2009, Chelanga was the 2006 Mid-Atlantic Regional champion for Fairleigh-Dickinson. He has won this meet the last two years by a combined 57 seconds. ACC champion Emil Heineking of Virginia and N.C. State's Ryan Hill are expected to be two of Chelanga's top competitors.
Kigen will look for an encore of his stellar race at the 2009 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships on the same course in Louisville. He came in sixth, earning individual selection to the national meet, where he claimed All-America honors.
Edmonds will hope to continue his upward trend in the regional standings. After finishing 42nd in the region as a freshman in 2006, the Empire State native moved up to 40th as a sophomore and 18th as a junior, earning all-region honors. Edmonds aims to make his first visit to an NCAA national championship event in any sport. On the track, he did run the 10K at the 2010 NCAA Preliminary Round meet in Greensboro, N.C.