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Chelanga, Kigen Place 1-2 at NCAA SE Regional
Liberty redshirt seniors Sam Chelanga and Evans Kigen impressively swept the top two places in the men's 10K at Saturday's NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. Both runners qualified for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, highlighting a successful day for the Flames and Lady Flames.
Chelanga won the fourth NCAA cross country regional title of his career, crossing the line 16 seconds ahead of Kigen. They were complemented by a 15th-place finish by fellow redshirt senior Josh Edmonds.
As a result, the Flames placed eighth out of 34 teams with 223 points. The team's fourth top-eight finish at this meet in the last five years will place Liberty in consideration for an at-large selection to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. The Flames finished ahead of North Carolina, which entered the meet ranked No. 18 in the nation. No. 19 William & Mary won the meet with 85 points, while No. 23 Duke was second with 116 markers.
Head coach Brant Tolsma's Lady Flames came in 10th out of 37 squads with an official team score of 321 points. It marked Liberty's third-highest team finish in meet history and was highlighted by Big South champion Jennifer Klugh's 15th-place effort in a new 6K school-record time of 20:55.5. No. 12 Virginia took the regional title with 65 points, with No. 22 North Carolina claiming second place with 100 tallies.
Men's Meet Recap
Chelanga ran much of the race alone on a sunny Saturday, opening up a 13-second lead by the 3K mark. The defending national champion's advantage increased to more than 20 seconds at times, before he cruised home to victory in a time of 29:55.8.
Chelanga remains undefeated in his four cross country races this season, winning each time by 12 seconds or more. He will now return to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for the fourth time in his career.
Kigen, who placed sixth at this meet in 2009, improved to the runner-up position on Saturday, clocking a 30:11.5. He was running neck-and-neck with Eastern Kentucky freshman Soufiane Bouchikhi at the 8K mark, before pulling away during the race's final stages. Kigen, a 2009 NCAA Cross Country All-American, defeated Bouchikhi by seven seconds for second place.
Edmonds made Liberty the first men's team to put three runners across the finish line, placing 15th out of 231 entrants in a personal-best 30:53.7. In fact, he defeated the top runner from Duke, which placed second overall in the final team standings.
Edmonds earned his second career all-region finish at the regional meet and will have an outside shot at qualifying for the national meet individually. His time was 17 seconds faster than his previous best, established at the 2008 regional meet.
The performances of Chelanga, Kigen and Edmonds gave Liberty a trio of men's all-region runners for the third time in the last four seasons.
Josh MacDonald was Liberty's No. 4 finisher on Saturday, coming in 86th overall. His time of 32:52.7 made him the 15th-fastest freshman in the region. Mark Hopely's 33:29.7 effort garnered a 121st-place finish, closing out the Flames' top five.
Also running for Liberty in Louisville were Isaac Wendland, who came in 153rd in 34:07.0, and Caleb Edmonds, who placed 169th with a 34:31.2 clocking.
Women's Meet Recap
Klugh continued her stellar 2010 cross country campaign by recording the fourth-best regional finish in program history, and the best ever by a sophomore. The Buckeye State native was in 34th place at the halfway mark, before climbing to her final finish of 15th. Klugh's official clocking of 20:55.5 improved upon her own 6K school-record time of 20:58, set at the Brooks Paul Short Run on Oct. 1.
Klugh becomes the fifth Division I all-region performer in Liberty women's cross country history and maintains an outside shot at reaching the national meet as an individual. She also now owns the three-fastest 6K cross country efforts in program history, all achieved this season.
Senior Dacia Bushman closed her cross country career with a 36th-place finish in 21:25.0. Hailey Neal followed in 53rd place, with an official time of 21:39.9. Klugh, Bushman and Neal were the first three Big South runners to finish on Saturday, as Neal came across the line 21 seconds ahead of her nearest conference competitor.
Sophomore Khristina Kanagy continued her strong late-season surge with a 90th-place finish in a personal-best 22:23.5. She was the ninth Big South finisher on Saturday, after placing 12th at the conference meet two weeks ago. Her effort also sliced 18 seconds off the sophomore's previous best.
Sophomore Betel Yosef also ran a significant personal best in Louisville. She netted 129th place in 22:49.6, which is 41 seconds faster than she had ever run a cross country 6K before.
Liberty's final two competitors were senior Rod'Esther Castor and junior Denise Troyer. Castor came in soon after Yosef, taking 131st place in 22:51.0. Meanwhile, Troyer's 23:07.2 was good for 154th place.
Chelanga and Kigen will now make final preparations for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, scheduled for Nov. 22 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind. The men's 10K race is scheduled for 12:48 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Liberty men's team and individuals Edmonds and Klugh will find out Sunday evening whether or not they have made it to Terre Haute.