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Flames, Lady Flames Aim to Defend Big South Cross Country Titles This Saturday

October 25, 2007  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Rebekah Ricksecker has run consistently well for the Lady Flames this season.

Rebekah Ricksecker has run consistently well for the Lady Flames this season.

The first two Big South Conference team championships of the 2007-08 athletic year will be awarded Saturday morning, at the New Balance Big South Cross Country Championships, presented by UCS. The Liberty men's and women's harriers will both look to defend the conference titles they claimed a year ago, in the meet hosted by UNC Asheville, at Jackson Park in Hendersonville, N.C.

The gun will go off for the women's 5K championship race at 9 a.m., followed by the men's 8K championship at 9:45. The Lady Flames will shoot for their second-straight Big South title, while the Flames try to capture their third-consecutive conference crown. Individually, a win by Josh McDougal (Sr., Peru, N.Y.) would make him the first runner in Big South history to claim four individual cross country titles.

Liberty and Coastal Carolina figure to duel for the women's team title, after the Lady Flames snapped the Lady Chanticleers' streak of five-consecutive Big South championships last year. Liberty enters the meet ranked No. 9 in the U.S. Track and Field & Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Southeast Regional poll, while Coastal Carolina is listed at No. 11.

The Lady Chanticleers feature senior Diana Jepchirchir, the two-time Big South Women's Cross Country Runner of the Week. Jepchirchir set a school and Big South record for 6K at Pre-Nationals on Oct. 13, running a 20:24 to place sixth in the blue race.

Although Liberty head coach Brant Tolsma admits his team does not have anyone who can individually match up with Jepchirchir, he believes the Lady Flames have a deeper roster than the Lady Chanticleers.

"We have good depth on the women's side," Tolsma noted. "If we run like we are capable of running, we should be able to win it. We have not done that yet this year, though."

Tolsma highlighted the trio of Piper Newby (Sr., Hayden Lake, Idaho), Dacia Bushman (Fr., Castalia, Iowa) and Rebekah Ricksecker (Jr., Laurel, Del.), each of whom has run consistently well for the Lady Flames through the early part of the season.

Newby has been Liberty's top finisher at the team's last two meets and broke her own school 6K record with a 21:22.5 at Pre-Nationals, two weeks ago. Bushman has wasted no time adjusting to the longer collegiate races, setting a Liberty freshman 6K record, 21:43.2, also at Pre-Nationals. Finally, Ricksecker started her year with a second-place finish at the Virginia Tech Invitational, capturing a Big South Women's Cross Country Runner of the Week distinction.

A year ago, Coastal Carolina runners finished first, second and fourth at the Big South meet, but Liberty was still able to pull out a 29-34 win. Newby placed third, Carol Jefferson (Sr., Schwenksville, Pa.) was fifth, Sarah Roberts (Sr., Zeiglerville, Pa.) took sixth, Ricksecker came in seventh and Ashley Osborne (Jr., Bristol, Va.) was eighth. Roberts has been out for the entire season due to injury, while Jefferson and Osborne both hope to return to peak form this weekend.

On the men's side, Liberty is a prohibitive favorite, led by the upperclass trio of McDougal, Jarvis Jelen (Sr., Sioux Falls, S.D.) and Jordan McDougal (R-Jr., Peru, N.Y.). They swept the top three spots at the 2006 Big South Cross Country Championship and all ran 24:00 or faster at their most recent meet, Pre-Nationals on Oct. 13. These results have instilled some confidence in Tolsma about the Flames' chances of a Big South three-peat.

"We certainly have the talent we need on the men's team," remarked Tolsma. "I wish we had a little more depth, though."

One of the runners who should bolster Liberty's depth is sophomore Josh Edmonds (So., Cooperstown, N.Y.), ninth at the 2006 Big South Championship. He won his first race this season, the Virginia Tech Invitational, and broke Josh McDougal's course record at the meet. Jelen followed with an individual victory the following Saturday at the Longwood Invitational. Then, McDougal placed first at the Notre Dame Invitational and Pre-Nationals. So, a Liberty men's runner has won each race the team has competed in this season.

Tolsma is also hoping for a strong performance by promising freshman Cory Reed (Eldred, N.Y.). Reed finished fourth at the season opener at Virginia Tech, running unattached, but has been bothered by some nagging injuries ever since.

Coastal Carolina and High Point promise to provide Liberty's toughest competition this Saturday. Last season, Coastal Carolina finished second at the Big South meet and High Point was third, five points behind the Chanticleers. High Point junior Tamas Kovacs could provide the strongest individual challenge for the McDougal brothers and Jelen.

The course at Jackson Park is a difficult one, judging by the times posted at the Pre-Big South Conference Preview Meet on Sept. 14. Tolsma believes a hilly course should work in his teams' favor, because Lynchburg, the Hill City, affords the Flames and Lady Flames plenty of opportunities for hill training.

In addition to competing for Big South team titles this Saturday, Liberty will use the meet as a final tune-up for the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, to be contested in Louisville, Ky., Nov. 10.