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Liberty to Chase Big South XC Titles Saturday

October 26, 2012
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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The Liberty men's cross country team will be in search of its eighth consecutive Big South title on Saturday.

Follow @libertyflames on Twitter for meet updates

Men's 8K Course Map

Women's 5K Course Map

Rock Hill Weather

The 2012-13 Big South Conference championship season will begin Saturday morning in Rock Hill, S.C., with the Big South Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships. The Liberty men's and women's squads are both expected to contend for team and individual championships at the Winthrop Coliseum and Farm.

The women's 5K championship will get the day started at 10:30 a.m., when the Lady Flames attempt to win their fifth team title in the last seven years but first since 2010. Meanwhile, redshirt senior Jennifer Klugh has a chance to become the first Lady Flame ever to win three consecutive Big South women's cross country individual championships.

At 11:30 a.m., the men's 8K race will go off. Liberty will attempt to continue impressive streaks in both the team and individual categories. The Flames have won a Big South-record seven consecutive men's team championships. Meanwhile, a Liberty runner has finished first at each of the last eight Big South Men's Cross Country Championships.

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Liberty cross country fans will be able to keep up with their favorite Flames and Lady Flames on Saturday via live Twitter updates from Rock Hill. Fans are urged to follow the Liberty Flames Twitter account (twitter.com/libertyflames) for photo and text updates throughout both of Saturday's races.

Weather Forecast
Saturday's temperature should be pretty pleasant for cross country running in Rock Hill. The forecast calls for a high of 69 degrees under cloudy skies. However, wind could become a factor, thanks to the far-reaching effects of Hurricane Sandy. Winds are projected to be between 20 and 30 mph out of the north-northeast on Saturday in Rock Hill.

Course Analysis
The race course, which loops around various parts of Winthrop's athletics complex, contains a few small hills. However, it can still produce relatively fast clockings, especially when the terrain is dry. For example, seven Lady Flames broke the 19:00 barrier for the 5K distance at the Sept. 15 Winthrop/Adidas Invitational.

Speaking of the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, both the Liberty men's and women's squads fared quite well during their first visit to the Winthrop course, last month. The Flames placed third, while the Lady Flames were second. Both were the top-finishing Big South teams on the day.

Winthrop is hosting the Big South Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships for the 10th time in meet history, but for the first time since Oct. 30, 2004. Liberty assistant coach Josh McDougal was the men's individual champion as a freshman that day, beginning the Flames' current streak of eight consecutive Big South men's cross country individual titlists. Additionally, McDougal's winning time of 23:49 still stands as the 8K course record.

Women's Team Preview
The Liberty women's team placed second to High Point at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships and was ranked second behind the Panthers in this year's preseason coaches poll. However, the Lady Flames have established themselves as a top contender to claim the Big South title on Saturday.

Liberty finished a clear first among Big South women's teams at the Sept. 15 Winthrop/Adidas Invitational. The Lady Flames are also the only Big South team currently listed in the USTFCCCA Southeast Region poll, where Liberty checks in at No. 13.

The Lady Flames are led by the front-running senior duo of Jennifer Klugh and Khristina Kanagy. Klugh has been the women's individual champion each of the last two years at this meet, while Kanagy is coming off of a sixth-place finish in 2011.

However, Liberty's greatest strength lies in its overall team depth. Eight different Lady Flames have clocked 5K times faster than 18:30 this fall. Compare that with the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships, where Lady Flames' No. 8 finisher posted a time of 19:35.

In addition to Klugh (17:33 season best for the 5K) and Kanagy (17:44), the Lady Flames' sub-18:30 runners this season include sophomore Meredith Mistretta (18:04), sophomore Jacy Christiansen (18:12), senior Betel Yosef (18:15), junior Katie Russo (18:23), junior Jessica Gass (18:24) and freshman Courtney Russo (18:24).

Other Team Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
– The Camels placed fourth in their first appearance at the Big South Cross Country Championships in 2011 and should contend for a top finish again this year. Campbell placed 10th out of 31 entrants at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational earlier this season.

Ashley Matthews, who finished ahead of both Jennifer Klugh and Khristina Kanagy at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational last month, headlines the Camels' lineup. The junior is one of four different Campbell harriers who have posted sub-19:00 times at the 5K distance this season.

Coastal Carolina – Head coach Alan Connie's Chanticleers are always in the championship discussion at this meet. For 24 consecutive seasons, Coastal Carolina has finished either first, second or third, including a third-place showing a year ago.

Coastal Carolina placed third overall and second among Big South squads at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, packing its top five runners inside a 36-second window. The Chanticleers are led by Jessica Dennison, Emily Marchini and 2011 Big South women's 10K champion Letitia Saayman.

High Point – The defending Big South champion Panthers have four runners back who placed inside the top eight at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships, including Kayleigh Perry (third place), Audrey Malloy (fifth), Kelsey Hunt (seventh) and Kelsey Paine (eighth).

High Point got off to a bit of a slow start this season, finishing just seventh at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational. However, the Panthers have gotten stronger in recent weeks. Six High Point runners posted 5K times of 19:08 or faster at the Oct. 12 Blue Ridge Open, as the Panthers came in third overall and tops among the six Big South entrants.

UNC Asheville – UNC Asheville, which came in ninth at the 2011 Big South meet, was one of the biggest surprises at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational last month. The Bulldogs placed fifth overall and third among Big South squads.

The Bulldogs are led by veterans Emma Bussard and Melanie Kulesz, who placed 10th and 13th, respectively, at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational.

VMI – Under the direction of first-year coach Jennifer Fazioli, the Keydets have not gone head-to-head with Big South opponents very often this year. VMI was the second-highest finishing conference team at the Blue Ridge Open on Oct. 12, where the Keydets tied for fourth place overall.

The Keydets have boasted a solid top four this fall, including Jenna Moye, Natalie Young, Leah Schubel and Michelle Church. However, VMI will need a No. 5 runner to step up Saturday if it hopes to improve upon its sixth-place performance from 2011.

Winthrop – The Eagles finished fifth at the 2011 Big South meet, with their top seven finishers all being freshmen and sophomores. Now a year older, Winthrop hopes to impress its home fans with a strong showing on Saturday.

Junior Jeanne Stroud and sophomore Tristan Langley comprise a potent 1-2 punch for the Eagles. Both runners finished in the top eight at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, and Stroud's school-record 5K clocking of 17:27 from the Will Wilson Citadel Invitational is the fastest time in the conference this year.

Team Notes
-- Liberty has finished in the top two at each of the last eight Big South women's cross country meets, including victories in 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2011.

-- Liberty has not gone two straight years without winning the Big South women's cross country team title since 2004 and 2005.

-- Coastal Carolina (12 titles) and Liberty (seven titles) are the perennial contenders at this meet. The Chanticleers and Lady Flames had combined to win 11 straight Big South women's cross country championships before High Point's crown in 2011.

Women's Individual Preview
Liberty redshirt senior Jennifer Klugh enters Saturday's race as the individual favorite, after claiming back-to-back Big South women's cross country individual titles in 2010 and 2011. She has a chance to become the first Lady Flame ever to win three Big South individual crowns in a row and the first Big South runner to do so since Coastal Carolina's Jolene Williams in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Klugh has only run two races this fall, but has been named both Big South and ECAC Division I Women's Cross Country Runner of the Week in the process. Her 5K time of 17:33 at the Notre Dame Invitational was the third-fastest effort in program history.

Klugh also boasts the most impressive track & field credentials of anyone in Saturday's field. She owns the Big South indoor 5K record at 16:48.32 and has won seven Big South track titles, spanning distances from 1,500 meters to 5K.

Lady Flames senior Khristina Kanagy could also be near the front of the pack on Saturday. She sped to a personal-best 5K time of 17:44 at the Notre Dame Invitational on Sept. 28 and won the Big South indoor 5K championship last season. Kanagy has made steady improvement at the Big South Cross Country Championship during her career, going from 25th place in 2009 to 12th in 2010 to sixth last year.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Emma Bussard (UNC Asheville)
– A redshirt senior, Bussard is coming off of the most impressive cross country race of her career. She clocked 21:52.8 for the 6K at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 13, cutting nearly 90 seconds off of her previous best and ranking third in program history.

Bussard also came in 10th at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational and was victorious at her team's home invitational on Sept. 29. She placed 17th at the 2010 Big South Cross Country Championship, before redshirting the 2011 campaign.

Ashley Matthews (Campbell) – Matthews has built upon a successful 2012 outdoor track & field season, which saw her place second in the Big South steeplechase final. The diminutive junior was the second Big South finisher at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational on Sept. 15, placing fifth overall.

Jenna Moye (VMI) – Moye made a big splash at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship, placing fourth overall and taking home Big South Freshman of the Year honors. She has battled various injuries for much of her career since then, but has enjoyed a stellar senior campaign.

Moye's last two races have produced new personal-best times at both the 5K (18:06) and 6K (21:54) distances. If Saturday's race comes down to a final sprint, Moye could be well prepared. She owns VMI's school record with an indoor mile clocking of 4:55.96 from 2011.

Kayleigh Perry (High Point) – The third-place finisher at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championship, Perry appears to be peaking at the right time this season. She is coming off of her best performance of the season, an 18:20 5K effort which netted sixth place at the Oct. 12 Blue Ridge Open.

Jeanne Stroud (Winthrop) – The home course favorite, Stroud placed a distant second to Jennifer Klugh at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championship, crossing the finish line 17 seconds back. This time around, the junior figures to give Klugh a much stronger challenge as she hopes to become the first women's runner to take home the Big South individual title on her home course since Coastal Carolina's Anne Marie Moutsinga in 2003.

Stroud was the top Big South finisher on her home course at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, finishing fourth overall. Most recently, she raced to an impressive victory at the Will Wilson Citadel Invitational in a school-record 5K time of 17:27.

Individual Notes
-- Jennifer Klugh has won half of Liberty's four Big South women's cross country individual titles in program history. Heather Sagan claimed the Lady Flames' other two championships, in 2000 and 2001.

-- Klugh has the opportunity to join Coastal Carolina's Catherine Conder (1994-96) and Jolene Williams (1997-99) as the only women's runners ever to capture three consecutive Big South individual cross country crowns.

-- With a top 10 finish, Klugh would become the first Lady Flame ever to earn four career All-Big South honors in cross country and only the ninth women's runner in conference history to do so.

-- Klugh has not finished behind a conference runner who was not her teammate in any Big South Championship final (cross country, indoor track & field or outdoor track & field) since the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship.

-- Every time Liberty has won the Big South women's cross country team title, its No. 1 runner has placed in the top three.

Men's Team Preview
Liberty has won a Big South-record seven Big South men's cross country team championships in a row. The streak is the fifth-longest active run among NCAA Division I men's cross country squads, trailing only Iona (21 straight MAAC titles), Butler (14 straight Horizon League titles), Wisconsin (13 straight Big 10 titles) and William & Mary (12 straight CAA titles).

The Flames were the top finishers at the Sept. 15 Winthrop/Adidas Invitational and are coming off of an impressive victory at the Royal Cross Country Challenge. Additionally, Liberty is the lone Big South team currently ranked in the Southeast Region (No. 14).

Despite all of that, Liberty expects a strong challenge from High Point. The Panthers have placed second at each of the last five Big South Championships and were only seven points behind the Flames in 2011.

David Ricksecker (sixth place at the 2011 Big South meet) and Caleb Edmonds (seventh) are the only two of Liberty's top five runners from the 2011 season who will be racing on Saturday. However, they will be joined by a talented group of freshmen, highlighted by Jeremie Bourget, Ngetich Kipchirchir and Will Templeton.

Kipchirchir (fifth place), Bourget (ninth) and Templeton (13th) were the top three Big South men's finishers at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, and all three have run 8K times under 24:40 this fall. Meanwhile, Ricksecker and Edmonds went 1-2 at the Royal Cross Country Challenge, with the former being named Big South and ECAC Division I Men's Cross Country Runner of the Week.

Other Team Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
High Point
– As mentioned previously, High Point is expected to pose a strong challenge to Liberty on Saturday. The Panthers have been the Big South men's cross country runner-up for five straight seasons, and head coach Mike Esposito calls this year's squad "the most talented group" he has coached during his eight seasons at High Point.

The Panthers return the No. 2 and 3 overall men's finishers from last year's Big South Championship, in senior Jacob Smith and junior Patrick Crawford, respectively. Smith went on to qualify for the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the steeplechase.

High Point's roster is also bolstered by a pair of freshmen, including Hungarian Benji Szalai and Paddy Grandinali. Szalai boasts the Panthers' fastest 8K time this season, with a 24:34 clocking at the Charlotte Invitational on Sept. 28.

The Panthers are looking to return to the top of the Big South standings for the first time since winning three straight men's titles between 2002 and 2004. At High Point's lone head-to-head matchup against Liberty this season, the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, the Flames placed third and the Panthers were fifth.

VMI – VMI does not boast the overall depth of either High Point or Liberty, but the Keydets feature a formidable top three runners, in senior Andrey Dmitriev and juniors Will Thompson and Cabell Willis. All three runners placed inside the top 20 at the Oct. 12 Blue Ridge Open, helping the Keydets place fifth as a team.

VMI had a 42-second gap between its No. 3 (Thompson) and 4 (Hartnel Paultre) runners at the Blue Ridge Open. The Keydets will need to tighten that gap if they hope to improve upon their third-place showing from the 2011 Big South meet.

Team Notes
-- Liberty has won a conference-high 13 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 21 seasons as a conference member. During that span, the next closest Big South men's squads are Coastal Carolina and High Point, with three titles apiece.

-- Liberty has won every Big South men's cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field team championship since finishing second to Coastal Carolina at the 2006 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships. That equals six straight Big South Triple Crowns and 18 consecutive men's team titles for the Flames.

-- The Flames' seven consecutive Big South cross country titles have been won by an average of 24.4 points. However, last year's seven-point margin of victory over High Point was the smallest during Liberty's current championship run.

-- The last time Liberty did not win the Big South men's cross country team title was 2004, which was the last year Winthrop hosted the meet. Assistant coach Josh McDougal was a freshman that year.

-- Liberty and High Point have combined to win 10 straight Big South men's team titles since Winthrop's championship on its home course in 2001.

-- Liberty has recorded nine consecutive top two finishes at the Big South meet. Prior to the Flames' seven straight titles, Liberty finished second to High Point in both 2003 and 2004.

-- The Flames have boasted the Big South individual champion 12 of the 13 times they have won the Big South team crown. The only exception came in 1994, when Bill Khan placed second, while leading Liberty to a team title.

Men's Individual Preview
Liberty runners have won the men's individual title 16 times in the Flames' 21 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championship, including a current conference-record streak of eight in a row. Assistant coach Josh McDougal won four straight Big South titles between 2004 and 2007, Sam Chelanga took three straight championships between 2008 and 2010 and Zac Edwards was victorious in 2011.

With Edwards sidelined due to injury, a new Liberty runner will try to continue the Flames' individual championship streak on Saturday. Redshirt senior David Ricksecker, junior Caleb Edmonds and redshirt freshman Ngetich Kipchirchir appear to be the Flames' top candidates.

A two-time All-Big South performer in cross country, Ricksecker owns the Big South's fastest 8K time this season, 24:07.6. That effort enabled him to win the Royal Cross Country Challenge on Oct. 12, marking the first individual victory of his collegiate cross country career. His best previous finish at the Big South Cross Country Championship was sixth place in 2011.

Edmonds, who placed seventh at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championship, finished right behind Ricksecker at the Royal Cross Country Challenge, in an 8K personal-best time of 24:08.4. Edmonds owns the fastest 5K personal best on the track of the trio, at 14:19.09.

Kipchirchir will be making his Big South Cross Country Championship debut on Saturday, but he is already a Big South champion on the track. The native of Eldoret, Kenya took home the men's 10K title at the 2012 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships and boasts a 10K personal best of 30:27.90.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Patrick Crawford (High Point)
– Crawford has fared well at this meet during his career, winning 2010 Big South Freshman of the Year honors and placing third individually in 2011. He was High Point's No. 1 finisher at the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, where he placed 14th overall.

Andrey Dmitriev (VMI) – Best known for his middle-distance exploits on the track, Dmitriev has dropped his 8K time to 24:58 this season. He is VMI's top returnee from the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships, where he placed 14th.

If the race comes down to a final sprint, the Russian could be tough to beat. He won the Big South indoor mile title in 2012 and boasts an 800-meter run personal best of 1:50.34.

Jacob Smith (High Point) – With Zac Edwards not racing, Smith is the top returner from the 2011 Big South meet, where he was the runner-up. He went on to enjoy a spectacular track season, winning four Big South titles and qualifying for the 2012 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the steeplechase.

Smith has only raced twice this fall, but his most recent race resulted in a strong performance. The Canadian clocked a 10K time of 31:49.4 at the Chile Pepper Festival in Arkansas, placing first on the team and 34th overall in a talented field.

Benji Szalai (High Point) – A native of Hungary, Szalai is perhaps the most unknown quantity in Saturday's field. The freshman has only finished one collegiate race, but it was an impressive performance.

Szalai notched an 8K time of 24:34 at the Sept. 28 Charlotte Invitational for seventh place overall and first on his team. He was 15 seconds ahead of Crawford and 42 seconds in front of Smith that day. Szalai then failed to finish the Chile Pepper Festival 10K on Oct. 13.

Morgan Timiney (Campbell) – Timiney, the 10th-place finisher at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championships, will look to continue his trend from the 2012 campaign to date. The junior has improved his 8K time in each of his four races, culminating with a personal-best 25:00 posting at the Pre-Nationals on Oct. 13.

At the Winthrop/Adidas Invitational, Timiney crossed the line in 15th place, directly behind Liberty's Will Templeton and High Point's Crawford.

Individual Notes
-- Liberty's Big South men's individual championship streak began the last time this meet was held at Winthrop (2004), when freshman Josh McDougal took top honors.

-- Josh McDougal in 2004 is the most recent Big South freshman to win the men's individual championship.

-- The Flames have placed three runners inside the top five at five of the last seven Big South Championships.

-- David Ricksecker will attempt to become the 12th men's runner in program history to earn three All-Big South cross country awards during his career. Only six Lady Flames have ever done so, including his older sister, assistant coach Rebekah Ricksecker.

-- If a Liberty runner is successful in winning Saturday's race, he would become the eighth different Flame to become Big South men's cross country individual champion, joining Bill Khan (1991-92), Josh Cox (1995-96), Stephen Githuka (1997-99), Bruce Kite (2000), Josh McDougal (2004-07), Sam Chelanga (2008-10) and Zac Edwards (2011).