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Liberty XC to Race in Charlotte, Friday
Men's 8K Course Map
Women's 5K Course Map
Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is not the only race taking place in the Queen City this weekend. The Liberty men's and women's cross country teams will compete across town at the Royal Cross Country Challenge hosted by Queens University, Friday afternoon at McAlpine Park.
The Flames' final tuneup for the Oct. 27 Big South Cross Country Championships will also enable them to preview the course for the Nov. 9 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships. The women's 5K will begin at 3:30 p.m., followed by the men's 8K at 4:15.
The weather should be nearly ideal for Friday's races, with the forecast calling for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s. The course should be pretty firm, due to dry weather in the Charlotte area this week, leading to faster times.
Scouting the Competition
Competition will not be nearly as stiff on Friday as it was at Liberty's last race, the Notre Dame Invitational. The meet will feature 31 women's teams and 32 men's squads. However, many of the teams hail from non-Division I institutions. Additionally, some of the top Division I teams which will be represented in Charlotte, like Davidson, Duke and Florida State, are expected to field "B" teams.
The Charleston Southern men's team is the only other Big South team entered in the Royal Cross Country Challenge. Most Big South squads are set to run in Friday's Blue Ridge Open in Boone, N.C.
Checking Out the Course
The race courses at McAlpine Park are known for being flat and fast. When Liberty competed in the Charlotte Invitational at McAlpine Park on Sept. 30, 2011, 30 women's runners broke the 18:00 mark for the 5K distance and 19 men's entrants ran sub-25:00 times in the 8K.
McAlpine Park will be the site of the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships on Nov. 9. That day, the women's race will be a 6K and the men's runners will compete at the 10K distance.
Last Time at Charlotte
Liberty last competed at McAlpine Park during the Charlotte Invitational on Sept. 30, 2011. The Flames and Lady Flames fared quite well, with Zac Edwards winning the men's individual title and Jennifer Klugh setting the women's 5K program record at 17:28.3.
Also aided by David Ricksecker's ninth-place finish, the Liberty men's squad took second place overall. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames finished ninth out of 36 women's teams at the meet.
Recipe for a Record?
Jennifer Klugh has positive memories of the course at McAlpine Park, after setting the 5K program record of 17:28.3 at the 2011 Charlotte Invitational. She now owns the three fastest women's cross country 5K clockings in school history, after racing to a time of 17:33 at the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 28.
If Klugh hopes to improve upon her own 5K record this season, Friday's race will most likely be her best opportunity. Liberty only has one more 5K race on the 2012 schedule, the Big South Cross Country Championships on Oct. 27. The course at Winthrop is not as flat or fast as the one at McAlpine Park.
Earning Some Respect
The Liberty women's cross country team is ranked No. 9 in the most recent U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Southeast Region poll. This represents the Lady Flames' highest regional ranking since Sept. 15, 2008, when Liberty was also listed No. 9. Assistant coach Rebekah Ricksecker was a senior on that team.
Liberty displayed its overall team strength and depth at its most recent race, the Sept. 28 Notre Dame Invitational. All seven Lady Flames crossed the finish line in under 19:00 for the 5K race, with the top five finishing under 18:20.
Liberty runners have achieved quite a few personal-best times already this season, but the most notable improvements have been achieved by Zach Barker of the men's team and Meredith Mistretta of the women's squad.
Barker's fastest 8K clocking entering the 2012 season was 25:54. At the Notre Dame Invitational, the junior posted a time of 25:26 for the five-mile distance, which is longer than 8K.
Meanwhile, Mistretta has certainly not suffered a sophomore slump. Instead, the New Hampshire native has dropped her 5K personal best from 19:14 in 2011 all the way to 18:17 at the Notre Dame Invitational.
Friday's race will end the 2012 cross country season for some of Liberty's women's runners. The team is only allowed to enter 10 athletes at the Big South Cross Country Championships and can only take seven runners to the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships. Sixteen women's runners have competed in at least one cross country race for head coach Brant Tolsma's squad this fall.