(L-R): Meredith Mistretta, Stephanie Buda, Courtney Russo and Katie Russo are among the top returnees on the 2013 Liberty women's cross country roster.
Last season, NCAA national qualifier Jennifer Klugh led a senior-laden Liberty women's cross country team to the Big South Conference title. If the Lady Flames hope to claim their sixth Big South crown in eight years in 2013, they will have to do so with a new-look squad.
Three all-conference runners (Klugh, Khristina Kanagy and Betel Yosef) from 2012 have graduated, leaving just one returning All-Big South performer (junior Jacy Christiansen) on the 2013 roster. Christiansen will be joined by a dozen newcomers among the 20 Lady Flames set to compete this fall.
"It's fun to see such a large group of runners out there," stated head coach Brant Tolsma. "We're hoping for some good surprises this season."
Liberty, which will open the 2013 season at the UVa Duals on Aug. 30, has Nov. 2 circled on its calendar. That day, the Big South Cross Country Championships will be contested in Buena Vista, Va.
"We're aiming to try to peak the team for the conference meet," Tolsma noted. The Lady Flames will need a strong effort to defend their Big South title against the expected challenges from teams like Coastal Carolina and High Point.
Christiansen enters her junior season as Liberty's projected No. 1 runner. The diminutive New Hampshire native has proven herself to be a strong championship racer during her first two collegiate seasons.
Last year, Christiansen placed eighth at the Big South Cross Country Championships before winning the indoor 3K title at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships. Christiansen's late-race charge up to third place in the Big South outdoor 5K final then clinched the team title for the Lady Flames.
Fellow junior and New Hampshire native Meredith Mistretta looks to build upon the major improvements she made a year ago. Mistretta moved up from 36th at the 2011 Big South Cross Country Championship to 15th in 2012. She also dropped her track times to 17:49.03 in the 5K and 36:57.22 in the 10K.
Other top returnees include sisters Katie and Courtney Russo and senior Jessica Gass. One of two seniors on the roster, Katie Russo was voted team captain for the 2013 campaign. She will look to improve upon her best-ever Big South placement of 25th from 2011.
Younger sister Courtney Russo finished 18th at last year's Big South meet, including second among freshmen. Meanwhile, Gass followed closely behind in 23rd place a year ago.
Junior Stephanie Buda is another runner who bears watching this fall. After enduring back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, Buda is healthier and stronger than ever entering the season.
Redshirt freshman Chelsea Page and true freshmen Jessie Proehl, Alexis Taylor and Kat Bouton are the most promising of the Lady Flames' newcomers during the early stages of practice. Page will be making her Liberty cross country debut after first enrolling in January. She ran track for the Lady Flames last season, finishing 12th in the Big South 10K final and posting a 5K best of 18:42.97. Proehl and Taylor both hail from Ohio, while Bouton is the cousin of second-year assistant coach Rebekah Ricksecker.
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