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2006 Cross Country Preview

September 5, 2006
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Josh McDougal

Josh McDougal

The Liberty University men's and women's cross country teams will open the 2006 season at Virginia's Lou Onesty Invitational on Saturday.  A season preview for both teams follows.

Josh McDougal has enjoyed unprecedented success during his first two years at Liberty, capturing six All-American honors.  McDougal is getting a little lonely, though, and would like his cross country teammates to accompany him to the national meet this year.

Most teams would be happy with back-to-back runner-up finishes at the conference championship meet.  For the Liberty women's cross country team, however, those placements have only served to increase the Lady Flames' motivation to end Coastal Carolina's string of five-consecutive Big South titles.

Both Liberty squads have set big goals for the 2006 season, but they are definitely achievable according to 21st-year head coach Brant Tolsma, despite the fact that neither team fields a senior athlete.

"This is probably the most excited we've ever been about our cross country teams," stated Tolsma.  "This season has the potential to be our best ever.  However, it's not potential that counts, it's performance.  Our teams are focused, determined and experienced."
 
Men's Team
As mentioned above, the Liberty men's cross country team has set qualification for the NCAA National Championship as its primary goal for the season.  If achieved, it would be a first not only for Liberty but for the entire Big South Conference.

One person who knows something about cross country team success at the national level, Greg Jimmerson, will lend his expertise to the Flames this fall as a new assistant coach.  Jimmerson led the 1996 Stanford men's cross country team to the NCAA Division I national title.

Junior Josh McDougal returns to lead the team.  He has achieved All-American status in each of his first two cross country seasons and has not lost a race outside of the NCAA National Championship meet.  McDougal is a legitimate contender for the individual national title as Wisconsin's Chris Solinsky is the only active runner who topped him at the 2005 national meet.

McDougal's younger brother, Jordan, a redshirt sophomore, is also looking for a banner year.  He was sacked with some health problems at the end of last season but showed glimpses of his potential early on.  He finished second overall in each of his first three races, including the Stanford Invitational.

Tolsma is also expecting big things from junior Jarvis Jelen.  He broke through at the end of his sophomore year with a fifth-place effort at the Big South meet and a 26th-place showing at the NCAA Regional Championship.  After a great summer of training, he is hoping to continue that momentum into the 2006 season.

Two additional Liberty juniors are returning All-Big South performers.  Clint Jackson took fourth place at last year's conference meet, while Drew Ponder took 10th.  Their efforts played a key role in Liberty's first conference title since 1999.

Joining the team this fall is a pair of promising newcomers, Josh Edmonds and Amos Mburu.  Both are rather inexperienced in cross country but have posted some impressive times on the track.  Edmonds, a Cooperstown, N.Y., native, has run 9:13 for 3200 meters.  Mburu, of Thika, Kenya, owns a 3000-meter PR of 8:27.

Junior Nate Edwards also returns from last year's squad and will provide needed depth to the team.  Sophomore James Doak is another runner looking to contribute to the Flames' efforts.
 
Women's Team
Unwilling to be outdone by their male counterparts, the Liberty women's harriers have also laid the foundation for a great season.  Tolsma believes that the Lady Flames are capable of the best year in program history.  That would mean capturing the team's first Big South title since 2000, finishing better than ninth at the NCAA Regional Championship meet and qualifying at least one runner to the NCAA National Championship.

Heather Zealand, who twice qualified for the NCAA National Championship herself, will aid in the accomplishment of those objectives.  She returns to the Liberty coaching staff for a fifth season.

While the men's team has tapped the state of New York for talented runners (Josh and Jordan McDougal and Josh Edmonds), Pennsylvania has proven to be a good place for Tolsma and his staff to focus their recruiting efforts on the women's side.

Pennsylvania natives Carol Jefferson and Sarah Roberts, both juniors, alternated as Liberty's top runner in 2005 and return to lead this year's unit.  Roberts' most noteworthy accomplishment a year ago was a runner-up finish at the Big South Championship.  Jefferson, ninth at the same meet, really experienced a breakthrough during the indoor track and field season, posting a school-record time of 17:06 in the 5000-meter run.

Other key returnees are also coming off great track and field seasons.  Sophomore Ashley Osborne broke 18 minutes in the 5K on the track this past spring.  Junior Piper Newby was third in the conference in the steeplechase.  Fellow junior Jo Welch recorded an 18:25 in the 5000 meters on the track.

Junior Reyna Quiroz (18:14 5K PR) is expected to be a scoring factor for the Lady Flames this season.  Sophomores Rebekah Ricksecker and Jaime Watson both displayed promise as freshmen and could impact this year's squad.

Rebekah Wahlquist, one of six juniors on the team, showed significant improvement during the track season and is hoping to translate that into a breakthrough cross country season.

Sophomores Molly Morgan and Meleia Johnson have both battled the injury bug during their time at Liberty.  They are each looking to have a healthy season and bolster the team's depth.
 
The Schedule
Tolsma has crafted a schedule that he believes will prepare his runners to reach their lofty goals, beginning with the Sept. 9 Lou Onesty Invitational just up the road at Virginia.

The Liberty men's and women's teams will take a week off before traveling to St. Paul, Minn., for a major challenge at the Sept. 23 Roy Griak Invitational.  Many of the nation's top teams will be in attendance, giving the Liberty runners a chance to gain big-meet experience and to collect at-large points towards qualification for the NCAA National Championship.

A week later, the LU runners will get to preview the course where the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship will be contested at the Greater Louisville Classic.

After getting a look at the regional course, the Flames and Lady Flames will preview the terrain at the site of the NCAA National Championship. The Liberty runners will compete in the Oct. 14 Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., where Josh McDougal owns the course record.  Like the Roy Griak meet, most of the national powers will be present at Terre Haute.

The Liberty athletes not making the trek to the Hoosier State on Oct. 14 will compete on the hills of the Virginia Horse Center at the VMI Invitational.

The 2006 Big South men's and women's cross country champions will be crowned in Charleston, S.C., on Oct. 28.  Liberty would love nothing better than to sweep the two team titles for the first time since 1992.

On Nov. 4, the runners who will not be competing at the NCAA Regional Championship meet will bring their season to a close, heading to Blacksburg, Va., for the Virginia Tech Hokie Open.

Liberty will then compete in the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship meet at Louisville on Nov. 11.  It is here that the men's and women's runners will attempt to qualify for the national meet.

The aforementioned NCAA National Championship meet will be held on Nov. 20 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.