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2012 Liberty Men's Cross Country Outlook
The Liberty men's cross country team will officially begin its 2012 season Friday evening, at the Virginia Tech Alumni Invitational in Blacksburg, Va. A season preview of the seven-time defending Big South Conference champion Flames follows.
The Liberty men's cross country team has won an unprecedented seven straight Big South Conference titles and posted a trio of top-seven finishes at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships during that time. That is quite a tradition of excellence to uphold, but head coach Brant Tolsma believes his 2012 squad is up to the task.
"We are expecting to field one of our best teams to date," asserted Tolsma. "Our fourth and fifth runners could be better than we've had in the past."
Expectations for the 2012 Flames are also high around the Big South Conference, as Liberty was a unanimous choice at No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll. However, Tolsma and his team are not taking anything for granted after defeating High Point by only seven points at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships.
"We don't expect it to be easy," Tolsma expressed. "We know that High Point will again be aiming to knock us off and that we can't take the conference meet lightly at all."
Before Liberty toes the starting line in Rock Hill, S.C., on Oct. 27 at the Big South Cross Country Championships, the Flames' primary objective will be qualifying for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships as a team for the first time. Liberty can greatly aid its cause in doing so with strong early-season performances at the Sept. 28 Notre Dame Invitational and Oct. 13 Pre-Nationals.
One Liberty runner who has experienced the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships first hand is redshirt senior Zac Edwards. Edwards gained NCAA experience at both Alabama and South Alabama before fashioning an outstanding 2011 cross country season for Liberty. He won three races, including an impressive 18-second victory at the Big South Cross Country Championships. Now recovered from injuries which prevented him from racing on the track in 2012, Edwards tops a list of four Flames who are among the top six returnees from the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships.
Redshirt senior David Ricksecker placed sixth at last year's Big South meet while juniors Caleb Edmonds and Josh MacDonald crossed the line seventh and eighth, respectively. Ricksecker, now a two-time All-Big South cross country performer, raced to a personal-best 5K time of 14:27.74 on the track. Edmonds was impressive during his first collegiate outdoor track & field season, finishing as the Big South 5K runner-up and dropping his 5K time to 14:19.09 at the IC4A meet.
MacDonald will be redshirted this season, along with fellow junior Jarred Cornfield. As a result, the Flames will also rely upon contributions from a quartet of talented freshmen.
Redshirt freshman Ngetich Kipchirchir displayed his ability during the 2012 outdoor track & field season, winning the Big South 10K title and dropping his time in the 25-lap event to 30:27.90. Jeremie Bourget of Timmins, Ontario posted some solid clockings at Theriault High School, including 5:56 for the 2K steeplechase, 8:31 for the 3K, 21:54 for the cross country 7K and 25:11 for the cross country 8K.
Meanwhile, freshmen Sam Hibbs of Hatboro, Pa., and Will Templeton of Knoxville, Tenn., were both high school state champions. Hibbs claimed the 2012 Pennsylvania Class AAA state title in the boys 3,200, while Templeton earned consecutive Tennessee Class AAA state cross country crowns in 2010 and 2011.
Zach Barker is back for his junior season after placing 29th at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships in an 8K personal-best time of 25:54. According to Tolsma, the Pennsylvania native enjoyed his best summer of training to date and could be a surprise for the Flames this fall.
Beyond Barker, the Flames will not have a lot of depth on the roster this season. "We will need to stay healthy and peak at the right time if we want to reach our goals," acknowledged Tolsma.
If those things happen, Liberty could continue an impressive run of men's cross country success which began when a freshman named Josh McDougal stepped onto campus in the fall of 2004 and now presses on with him as a part of the Flames' coaching staff.