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Big South XC Championships Set for Saturday

October 29, 2015  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty men's and women's cross country teams both figure to be in the running for conference titles at Saturday morning's 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships. Presbyterian will host the meet at the Milliken Center in Spartanburg, S.C.

The men's 8K will begin at 10:30 a.m., as the Flames seek their 16th Big South title. The women's 5K will follow at 11:30 a.m., with the Lady Flames chasing their first Big South crown since 2012 and ninth overall.

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Liberty fans will be able to keep up with the teams on Saturday via live Twitter updates from the course. Fans are urged to follow the official Liberty Gameday Twitter account (@LUGameday) and the new Liberty Track & Field Twitter account (@Liberty_TF) for updates throughout the day.

Timing will be provided by TimingInc.com, and results will be posted on the company's website.

Weather Report
Saturday's weather forecast in Spartanburg is much more favorable than the soggy conditions runners faced at the Oct. 3 Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview. Sunny skies and a high temperature in the mid-60s are expected for the final day of October.

Checking Out the Course
The race course features loops around the Milliken Research Center in Spartanburg, S.C., and could yield fast times on Saturday. Despite standing water on the course at the Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview, Liberty's Cameron Francis was able to clock 25:30 for the 8K and Torree Scull posted an 18:39 5K.

The men's 8K course record is 23:29, set by Central Arizona's Henry Lelei in 2010. Joan Tangwar of USC Upstate sped to a women's 5K course-record time of 17:06 in 2011.

Presbyterian is hosting the event for the first time, and Saturday's meet will mark the first Big South Cross Country Championships in South Carolina since the 2012 event was held in Rock Hill, S.C.

Liberty swept the Big South men's and women's team titles in 2012, paced by Jennifer Klugh's individual victory on the women's side and David Ricksecker's runner-up finish in the men's race.

Three Liberty runners who will compete on Saturday also raced for the Flames in 2012. Jeremie Bourget and Sam Hibbs placed 12th and 13th, respectively, in the men's race as freshmen while Caroline Parris came in 49th in the women's event.

Men's Team Preview
Liberty will attempt to return to the top of the Big South Conference after seeing its league-record streak of nine straight titles snapped by High Point in 2014. The Flames have finished in the top two at this meet for 12 consecutive seasons, including nine victories and three runner-up finishes.

Only two of the Flames' top six finishers from the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships will be in action on Saturday, including senior Sam Hibbs and redshirt junior Josh Showalter. They are two of Liberty's three current runners who have earned All-Big South honors for cross country during their career, along with redshirt junior Jeremie Bourget.

The 2015 Flames have been bolstered by a pair of talented freshmen (Azaria Kirwa and James Zentmeyer), a runner returning from a redshirt season (Bourget) and a breakthrough sophomore season by Cameron Francis.

Kirwa, Francis, Bourget and Showalter all clocked sub-25:00 8K times at the Flames' most recent race, helping Liberty win the men's black race team title at Pre-Nationals, Oct. 17 in Louisville, Ky. That result catapulted the Flames to No. 10 in the Southeast Region, just ahead of conference rivals Campbell (No. 11) and High Point (No. 12).

Campbell, High Point and Liberty have only competed in the same race once thus far in 2015, the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on Sept. 26. That day, Campbell placed fifth, while Liberty and High Point shared the ninth position.

Since then, High Point (first place) defeated a short-handed Liberty squad (third place) at the Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview on Oct. 3 and the Flames (first place) beat High Point (fourth place) in the Pre-Nationals black race.

Other Team Challengers
Campbell – After placing third in the Big South for three consecutive years, Campbell enters Saturday's meet with a legitimate chance to capture its first-ever Big South men's cross country title.

Head Coach Michael Kelly's roster features four Kenyan runners, headlined by the potent 1-2 punch of freshman Lawrence Kipkoech and junior Amon Terer. They both finished inside the top 20 in the Pre-Nationals red (seeded) race and are favored to take the top two spots in Saturday's men's individual race.

Sophomore Jacob Kipserem was a surprise runner-up at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships, while freshman teammate Meshack Kipruto has been impressive during his rookie season.

The Camels defeated both High Point and Liberty at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on Sept. 26. A strong performance by No. 5 runner Josh Vermette will be key if Campbell hopes to do so again on Saturday in Spartanburg.

High Point – Like Liberty, defending conference champion High Point hopes to overcome Campbell's front running with a strong pack of runners. The Panthers have placed in the top two for eight straight years, preceding last year's title with seven consecutive runner-up finishes.

Four Panthers broke 25 minutes for the 8K at Pre-Nationals, including senior Paddy Grandinali, freshman Alejandro Torres, junior Chernet Sisay and redshirt senior Jeff LaCoste.

LaCoste is the defending Big South men's cross country individual champion, after placing second in 2013 and eighth in 2012. On Saturday, he will have a chance to become the eighth men's runner in conference history to garner four All-Big South cross country honors.

Junior Vinny Todaro ran just 25:22 at Pre-Nationals but has enjoyed a strong season, building upon his Big South 1,500-meter title on the track in May.

Todaro was the men's individual champion during his last visit to Spartanburg, edging Liberty's Cameron Francis at the Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview. Six Panthers placed inside the top 12 that day, helping High Point win the team championship.

Two weeks later, however, Liberty defeated High Point by three places and 64 points in the Pre-Nationals black race.

Team Notes
• Liberty has won a conference-high 15 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 24 appearances at the conference meet. During that span, the next closest Big South men's squad is High Point, with four titles.

• Liberty and High Point have combined to win 13 straight Big South men's team titles since Winthrop's championship on its home course in 2001.

• Liberty has recorded 12 consecutive top two finishes at the Big South meet. In addition to the Flames' run of nine straight titles (2005-13), Liberty placed second behind High Point in 2003, 2004 and 2014.

• The Flames have boasted the Big South individual champion 12 of the 15 times they have won the Big South team crown. The only exceptions came in 1994, when Bill Khan led Liberty with a runner-up finish, 2012, when David Ricksecker was the Flames' leader in second place and 2013, when Jeremie Bourget led the way in third place.

• Campbell's best-ever Big South men's cross country finish is second place. The Camels have recorded five runner-up finishes, with the most recent coming in 1993.

Men's Individual Preview
Liberty runners have won the men's individual title 17 times in the Flames' 24 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships, including a conference-record eight straight individual championships between 2004 and 2011. However, High Point runners have finished first at each of the last three Big South Cross Country Championships.

Although Jeremie Bourget, Sam Hibbs and Josh Showalter have all earned All-Big South cross country honors during their careers, freshman Azaria Kirwa is the most likely Flame to contend for first place on Saturday.

A native of Eldoret, Kenya, Kirwa has been the Flames' top finisher in each of his three races this season. He was named Big South Runner of the Week on Sept. 9 and clocked an 8K personal-best time of 24:15.1 for 10th place in the Pre-Nationals black race on Oct. 17.

Hibbs, the lone senior on the Flames' roster, has been a steady performer throughout his career. He placed 13th at the 2012 Big South Cross Country Championships, before improving to ninth in 2013 and sixth a year ago. Hibbs is aiming to become the 13th Liberty men's runner ever to earn three or more All-Big South finishes in cross country.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell) – Kipkoech took the Big South Conference by storm during his freshman track & field season, sweeping the Big South outdoor men's 5K and 10K titles. He then went on to place 10th in the 10K at the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, earning second team All-America honors.

During his first collegiate cross country season, Kipkoech has dipped under 24 minutes in all three of his 8K races, including his program-record time of 23:32.3 which won the Royals Challenge on Oct. 9. The two-time Big South Runner of the Week will aim to become the first freshman to win the Big South men's cross country individual title since Liberty's Josh McDougal in 2004.

Amon Terer (Campbell) – Terer is the reigning Big South Runner of the Week, after his 10th-place finish and personal-best 8K time of 23:32.5 in the Pre-Nationals red race on Oct. 17. He is a four-time Big South champion on the track but placed a disappointing 14th at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships.

Terer is the only Big South runner who has defeated teammate Kipkoech in a race of 3,000 meters or longer during his collegiate career to date.

Individual Notes
• If a Liberty runner is victorious on Saturday, he would become the eighth different Flame to capture a Big South individual men's cross country title, 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).

• The Flames have placed three runners inside the top five at six of the last 10 Big South Championships.

• A Liberty runner had placed inside the top three at this meet for 11 consecutive years prior to last season, when Titus Koech was the Flames' top finisher in fourth place.

• Sam Hibbs will attempt to become the 13th men's runner in program history to earn at least three All-Big South cross country awards during his career.

• High Point runners have won three consecutive Big South men's cross country individual championships, including Jacob Smith (2012), Patrick Crawford (2013) and Jeff LaCoste (2014). LaCoste will attempt to become the first Big South runner to claim back-to-back conference titles since Liberty's Sam Chelanga won three in a row between 2008-10.

• A Campbell Camel has not won the Big South men's individual championship since 1990, when David Pitaro took top honors.

• Last season, Liberty, High Point and Campbell runners claimed 11 of the 12 All-Big South honors at this meet.

Women's Team Preview
The Liberty women's cross country team will chase its ninth Big South title and its first since 2012 on Saturday. The Lady Flames finished second to High Point a year ago, marking their 11th straight top-two finish at this meet.

The Lady Flames return three runners who placed inside the top 30 at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships, including junior Terrill Zentmeyer (20th), junior Kat Bouton (23rd) and redshirt senior Caroline Parris (30th).

However, freshmen Ednah Kurgat, Torree Scull and Anna Van Wyk have led the way for the Lady Flames this season. Kurgat has placed inside the top seven at all three of her races, while Scull came in third at the Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview.

The only time Liberty has gone head-to-head with top Big South contenders Coastal Carolina and High Point this season was the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational on Sept. 26. That day, Coastal Carolina placed seventh, while High Point and Liberty shared 11th place.

Other Team Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Coastal Carolina
– The Chanticleers are literally always in the championship discussion at this meet. Prior to last season's fifth-place finish, Coastal Carolina had placed inside the top three for 26 consecutive seasons, including 13 championships.

Coastal Carolina, ranked No. 9 in the Southeast Region, features the conference's top 1-2-3 punch, in senior Letitia Saayman, junior Kyla van Graan and sophomore Aynslee van Graan. All three hail from Pretoria, South Africa, and placed inside the top six at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships.

For the second straight year, the Chanticleers' team finish will largely be dictated by the performance of their No. 4 and No. 5 runners. Rachel Byrd and Alesia Muklebust filled those roles well at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational, helping Coastal Carolina finish well ahead of Liberty and High Point.

However, Muklebust did not compete at Pre-Nationals and No. 5 runner Regina Peattie clocked a 6K time of 24:42 for 311th place.

High Point – High Point did not have any runners place inside the top eight at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships, but the Panthers captured the team title by boasting an impressive 20-second spread between their first and fifth finishers.

Four of the Panthers' top five finishers from last year are back, including Natalia Ocasio (ninth place), Kelly Hayes (10th), Cozette Collin (13th) and Katie Farina (18th). All four are running well this season, headlined by Hayes, who has recorded a trio of top-five finishes in 2015.

In order to repeat as Big South champion for the first time, High Point will need its No. 5 runner to step up on Saturday. Top candidates to do so are seniors Erika Peoples and Julia Zautcke.

The Panthers fared well during their first visit to Spartanburg this fall, placing second overall and first among Big South teams at the Upstate Invitational/Big South Preview on Oct. 3.

Team Notes
• Liberty has finished in the top two at each of the last 11 Big South women's cross country meets, including victories in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 and runner-up finishes in 2004, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2014.

• The Lady Flames are the most recent Big South women's team to win back-to-back titles, doing so in 2009 and 2010.

• Coastal Carolina (13 titles) and Liberty (eight titles) are the perennial contenders at this meet. The Chanticleers and Lady Flames have combined to win 13 of the last 15 Big South women's cross country championships, with the lone exception being High Point's crowns in 2011 and 2014.

• Last season marked the closest team finish at this meet since 2008, as High Point finished just six points ahead of runner-up Liberty and only 20 points ahead of fifth-place Coastal Carolina.

• Coastal Carolina will try to win its first Big South women's cross country title in its home state since taking the 2004 championship in Rock Hill, S.C.

Women's Individual Preview
Last season, Jacy Christiansen joined Jennifer Klugh and Heather Sagan as the only Lady Flames ever to win the women's individual title at the Big South Cross Country Championships.

Christiansen has since graduated, but freshman Ednah Kurgat has emerged as a championship contender in Saturday's race.

In her last two races, Kurgat has broken Klugh's program records for both the 5K (17:11.1 at the Sept. 26 Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational) and 6K (20:21.9 at the Oct. 17 Pre-Nationals black race). However, Kurgat was not the fastest Big South runner either day, as Coastal Carolina's Letitia Saayman ran 17:07.4 at Virginia and 20:15.1 at Pre-Nationals.

Saturday's race will mark the seventh time Kurgat and Saayman have gone head-to-head in the same race, with Saayman winning four of the previous six matchups. Kurgat does have one Big South title to her credit, as she was able to hold off Saayman and win the 2015 Big South indoor women's 3K title.

No Liberty freshman has ever been the Big South women's cross country individual champion, and Coastal Carolina's Julia Viellehner was the last conference freshman to finish first at this meet, in 2006.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Letitia Saayman (Coastal Carolina)
– Saayman will attempt to capture her eighth and final Big South individual title on Saturday, after claiming the 2013 cross country crown and six championships on the track. The senior from South Africa has been in top form this season, winning four Big South Runner of the Week awards and breaking the Coastal Carolina 6K record with a 20:15.1 at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 17.

After placing third at the 2014 Big South Cross Country Championships, Saayman went on to qualify for the 2014 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. On Saturday, she will aim to become the 10th Big South women's cross country runner ever to post four consecutive All-Big South performances at this meet.

Kyla van Graan (Coastal Carolina) – Van Graan has been a top contender at each of her first two Big South Cross Country Championships, placing second in 2013 and fifth a year ago. Despite running in the shadow of teammate Letitia Saayman, van Graan is enjoying a strong junior season. Most recently, she posted an impressive 6K time of 20:53.8 at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 17.

Van Graan joined Saayman in qualifying for the 2014 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. She also boasts a 5K personal-best time of 16:53.40 on the track.

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

• A Lady Flame has placed in the top three at the Big South meet every year since 2005.

• Only three different Lady Flames have been the Big South individual champion in meet history, including Jacy Christiansen (2014), Jennifer Klugh (2010-12) and Heather Sagan (2000-01).

• No freshman has claimed the Big South women's individual crown since Coastal Carolina's Julia Viellehner did so in 2006.

• The last time a freshman served as the Lady Flames' No. 1 runner at this meet was 2004, when Danielle Jordan placed fourth. That year, she was joined in the top 10 by fellow freshman Sarah Roberts (10th place).