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Big South Musco Spotlight: Jennifer Klugh
The Big South Conference, in conjunction with Musco Sports Lighting, continued its monthly "Musco Women's Spotlight" feature today, highlighting Liberty women's cross country/track & field standout Jennifer Klugh. Klugh and the Lady Flames are preparing for the Big South Cross Country Championships, which will be contested Saturday in Conway, S.C.
Click here to view the "Musco Women's Spotlight" feature on Jennifer Klugh on BigSouthSports.com
Liberty fans are likely aware that reigning Big South Conference women's cross country champion Jennifer Klugh is enjoying another stellar season this fall. However, most probably don't realize that some of her most important cross country preparation took place across the world.
Klugh traveled to Zimbabwe with Athletes in Action this past summer for a missions trip. The redshirt junior's first visit outside the United States saw her provide instruction in track & field and basketball, as well as share the gospel message and her personal testimony.
Working alongside Zimbabwe natives, Klugh had the opportunity to instruct a wide range of people, from elementary school through college age. It was an experience Klugh won't soon forget.
"God showed me a lot of things during my time in Zimbabwe," Klugh remarked. "The experience gave me a much bigger perspective on life and helped me reset my focus. It made me realize that there's a lot more going on in the world outside my own little bubble."
Klugh has also carried important lessons from her Zimbabwe trip into her role as captain of the Liberty women's cross country team.
"After my trip, I look more at worshiping God through sports," noted Klugh. "So, I have tried to share that with my teammates and bring our team's focus back to why we're here."
For these reasons and many others, Liberty Head Men's and Women's Cross Country Coach Brant Tolsma stated, "It's great to have Jenn as a captain this year."
Tolsma also recalled the adversity Klugh battled as she first enrolled at Liberty in the fall of 2008 and how that has enhanced her ability as a captain.
After a strong senior cross country season at Highland High School in central Ohio, Klugh committed to attend Liberty the following year. However, the three-sport high school athlete tore her ACL during her senior basketball campaign.
As a result of the devastating knee injury, Klugh was not able to adequately prepare for her first cross country season with the Lady Flames and struggled to keep up with her new teammates.
"Jenn came in after tearing her ACL in high school and was the last runner on our team her first cross country season," Tolsma recalled. "We decided to redshirt her, not for strategic reasons but because she simply wasn't able to help our team that year. However, she still did her best all the time and worked hard to improve."
By the next cross country season, Klugh had asserted herself as one of the Big South Conference's top female distance runners, cementing that status with a third-place finish at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championships.
"Jenn makes a good captain because she has seen all sides of it, from the back of the pack to the front of the pack," Tolsma stated. "She's also a well-balanced girl who is always joyful."
Klugh has to remain well-balanced in order to keep up with her training and the demands of a mathematics major. Klugh, who aspires to be a high school math teacher in her home state of Ohio, has done an impressive job of it thus far. She maintains a 3.43 grade-point average and has earned a number of academic accolades.
Most notably, Klugh was voted the 2010 Big South Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's cross country. She then became only the second women's cross country to couple that award with a first-place individual finish at the Big South Cross Country Championships.
Just as she had to work extremely hard to overcome her ACL injury, Klugh spends a lot of time and effort on her studies.
"I pour all the time I can into my studies," Klugh explained. "Math takes up just about every waking moment that I'm not running. I call the library my second home, because I spend more time there than I do in my dorm room."
Tolsma described Klugh's ability to excel in both athletic and academic settings in the following manner, "Jenn is diligent in everything she's called to do. She ‘works heartily, as unto the Lord.' (Colossians 3:23) She makes the most of her academic abilities, as well as her athletic abilities. Jenn is really a wonderful fit for Liberty."
Attending Liberty has afforded Klugh numerous benefits too. She has taken the first airplane flights of her life, traveling to far corners of the nation like Washington and California with the track & field team. It was at Liberty that Klugh first became introduced to Athletes in Action, paving the way for her Zimbabwe trip. She also had the opportunity to meet Phil Vischer, creator of her beloved Veggie Tales series, at a Convocation service this fall.
"It has been a real joy to coach Jenn all the way through her career," Tolsma expressed. "She is definitely one of a kind."
Up to this point in Liberty women's cross country history, Heather (Sagan) Zealand stands out as a "one of a kind" performer. She is the only Lady Flame ever to compete at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and also the program's only two-time Big South women's cross country individual champion.
Klugh hopes to give her former assistant coach some company this season. On Saturday, she will attempt to defend both her individual and team championships at the Big South Cross Country Championships in Conway, S.C. Klugh has not lost a cross country race to a Big South opponent since 2009 and enters the 5K contest as the prohibitive favorite.
"I have faith in the training I have done this season," Klugh stated. "I'm also trusting God to bless me in the race."
"Jenn just needs to run her own race and stay healthy," added Tolsma about Klugh's chances at the Big South meet. "She's as much of a favorite as we've had on our team in quite a while."
After she crosses the finish line in Conway, Klugh's focus will shift to her stated "big goal" for the 2011 cross country season, qualifying for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. If she is successful in making it to the starting line in Terre Haute, Ind., Klugh will certainly be thankful for the important lessons she learned six time zones away in Zimbabwe.
Paul Carmany is an assistant athletics communications director for Liberty Athletics.