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Kirwa to Make NCAA Debut in Men's 5K, Friday

June 6, 2017  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Liberty sophomore Azaria Kirwa will race in Friday evening's men's 5K final at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Kirwa's race will start at 10:25 p.m. Eastern Friday evening and will be televised live on ESPN. It is the next-to-last men's event of the four-day meet, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday.

How to Keep Up with Kirwa
ESPN will provide live television coverage of the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships from 8:30-11 p.m. Eastern on Friday, including Kirwa's 5K at 10:25. The coverage will also be streamed on the Watch ESPN app for mobile devices.

Live results, including lap-by-lap splits of the 5K, will be available, courtesy of Flash Results.

LibertyFlames.com will be on hand at Hayward Field, providing comprehensive men's 5K updates via the Liberty Gameday (@LUGameday) Twitter account.

Weather Report
Friday evening's weather in Eugene, which calls for a temperature in the 50s with rain showers, should be welcomed by the 5K runners.

About the Facility
Hayward Field, which first opened in 1919 as Oregon's football stadium, is one of the most storied track & field venues in the United States. The stadium, which boasts a permanent seating capacity of 10,500, hosted the 2008, 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

The facility is playing host to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships for the fifth straight year, and is slated to continue hosting the event through 2021. Eugene will also host the 2021 IAAF World Championships at Hayward Field, which will mark the first time the event has ever been held in the United States.

NCAA Championship Event Capsule
Men's 5K
Event Schedule: Final – Friday at 10:25 p.m. Eastern

Liberty Competitor: Azaria Kirwa (So., Eldoret, Kenya)

How He Got Here: Kirwa experienced a wide range of emotions at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet, May 25-27 in Lexington, Ky.

On the meet's opening night, Kirwa placed an agonizing 13th in the men's 10K semifinals with a time of 30:08.42. That left him just one spot and 3.38 seconds away from qualifying for Eugene.

Kirwa regrouped and returned to the starting line for the men's 5K semifinals just 48 hours later. The sophomore made the most of his second chance, earning the fifth and final automatic qualifying berth to Eugene from his heat. Kirwa's time of 14:07.38 was the fifth fastest clocking among the four 5K semifinals held in Lexington and Austin, Texas on May 27.

Kirwa became the first Flame to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the men's 5K since Sam Chelanga captured the event's national title in 2011.

Season at a Glance: Kirwa has only competed in four 5Ks in 2017, but has fared well in each race.

Kirwa clocked a Liberty Indoor Track Complex-record time of 14:29.50 to win the Darius Dixon Memorial Invitational 5K on Jan. 27.

The native of Eldoret, Kenya then captured the IC4A indoor 5K championship with a 14:11.36 effort, March 4 in Boston.

Kirwa improved his personal best to 14:00.29 in his 2017 outdoor 5K debut, April 22 at the Virginia Challenge in Charlottesville, Va.

Kirwa's fourth 5K was his aforementioned 14:07.38 effort at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet on May 27.

Kirwa did not compete in the 5K at either the 2017 Big South Indoor or Outdoor Track & Field Championships, as Liberty had the men's team title well in hand by that point in both meets.

Kirwa's most impressive race of 2017 to date, from a time perspective, has been his 29:05.57 10K clocking at the Raleigh Relays, March 24 in Raleigh, N.C. The only two Flames ever to run faster in the 10K are past NCAA national champions Sam Chelanga (NCAA-record 27:08.39) and Josh McDougal (28:27.65). Chelanga and McDougal are also the only other Flames ever to qualify for the men's 5K at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Kirwa has earned three All-Big South honors this year, thanks to a fourth-place finish in the 2016 Big South Cross Country Championships, a third-place effort in the 2017 Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships 3K and a runner-up showing in the 2017 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships 10K. Interestingly though, Kirwa has qualified for the NCAA national meet and claimed an IC4A title before capturing his first career Big South event championship.

A Tale of Two Years: Kirwa has made major improvements from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign.

He dropped his indoor 3K time from 8:34.14 in 2016 to 8:12.03 in 2017. Kirwa's 5K time improved from 14:55.21 in 2016 to 14:00.29 in 2017. Most remarkably, he sliced his 10K clocking from 32:52.85 in 2016 to 29:05.57 this season.

Kirwa's 2016 cross country season got off to a rough start as well, as he was not one of the Flames' top four runners through the first month and a half of competition.

Kirwa then broke through for a fourth-place finish at the 2016 Big South Cross Country Championships and a 31st-place showing at the 2016 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, setting the stage for his big breakthroughs on the track oval.

First Timers: Kirwa will be making his first appearance at the NCAA Division I national meet in either cross country or track & field. Similarly, Tim Sykes, who coaches Liberty's men's distance runners, will be taking one of his athletes to the NCAA Division I national meet for the first time in his coaching career. Sykes just joined the Flames' staff as an assistant coach in January.

Three other men's 5K runners will also be making their NCAA Division I national meet debuts on Friday, including Zach Long (Tennessee), Euan Makepeace (Butler) and Bryce Stroede (Oakland).

Go West, Young Man: Friday's race will mark Kirwa's first career visit to the West Coast. The farthest west he had traveled for a race prior to this week was on Oct. 15, 2016, when Kirwa competed at the ISU Pre-National Invitational cross country meet in Terre Haute, Ind.

A Look at the Competition: One of the major storylines surrounding Friday's men's 5K final is the absence of Oregon's Edward Cheserek from the field. The two-time defending national champion in the event and 17-time NCAA national champion overall was forced to end his collegiate career prematurely due to injury.

Syracuse's Justyn Knight has emerged as the pre-meet favorite. The junior defeated Cheserek head-to-head at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational on May 6 with a personal-best 5K time of 13:17.51. That ranks No. 4 all-time among collegiate runners.

Knight has been close to winning a national title twice this year, finishing as the runner-up at both the 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and in the 2017 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships men's 3K final.

Stanford sophomore Grant Fisher is the top returnee from the 2016 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships men's 5K, where he placed sixth as a freshman. Fisher also owns the second fastest 5K personal best in the field at 13:30.13.

Marc Scott, a senior from Tulsa, was the runner-up to Cheserek in the 2017 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships men's 5K final. He boasts a personal best of 13:36.81 but will be coming back from the 10K final on Wednesday evening. Scott is one of three runners who are entered in both the men's 5K and 10K, along with Jacob Choge (Middle Tennessee) and Clayton Young (BYU). Additionally, Tulane's Emmanuel Rotich will compete in the men's steeplechase and 5K, with both events' finals slated for Friday evening.

Campbell senior Amon Terer is another potential title contender. He finished third in the men's 5K at the 2017 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and paced all qualifiers in the NCAA Division I Preliminary Round at 13:55.55.

The presence of Kirwa and Terer in the field makes the Big South one of seven conferences with multiple entrants in the men's 5K. Notably, the Big South outdoor men's 5K champion, freshman Amon Kemboi of Campbell, did not make it to Eugene. He was one place away from qualifying in his heat at the NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet.

Five Pac-12 men's 5K runners will compete in Eugene, including three Colorado Buffaloes. The race will also feature three Big Ten entrants and two apiece from the ACC, American, BIG EAST, Big South and SEC.

Track & Field News is high on the Buffaloes' chances on Friday, as the magazine's projected top eight finishers are Knight, Fisher, Joe Klecker (Colorado), Zach Perrin (Colorado), Terer, John Dressel (Colorado), Scott and Jack Bruce (Arkansas).

A fast final lap will likely be required for a top eight finish, as all eight scorers in the 2016 men's 5K final clocked 61.30 seconds or faster for the last lap. Knight, who owns the field's best 1,500 personal best (3:39.23), uncharacteristically struggled to a 70.40-second final lap in 2016, dropping from fourth place to 10th.

Fisher won this year's Pac-12 1,500 title on the strength of a 51.81-second last lap and a 1:52.52 for his final 800 meters, displaying his impressive closing speed.

Kirwa is not known for a blazing finishing kick, but he summoned a 62.32-second final lap in Lexington to punch his ticket to Eugene.

Only four runners are back from the 2016 final, including Fisher, Knight, Terer and Iona's Chartt Miller.

Kirwa is one of 10 sophomores in the field and one of 12 foreign-born competitors. The foreign-born athletes who will toe the starting line on Friday include Bruce (Brisbane, Australia), Miller (Perth, Australia), Fisher (Calgary, Canada), Knight (Vaughan, Canada), Kirwa (Eldoret, Kenya), Terer (Eldoret, Kenya), Choge (Kapsabet City, Kenya), Rotich (Sotik, Kenya), UT Arlington's Craig Lautenslager (Nelson, New Zealand), Providence's Julian Oakley (Tauranga, New Zealand), Butler's Euan Makepeace (Loughborough, United Kingdom) and Scott (North Yorkshire, United Kingdom).

Meanwhile, one of Kirwa's competitors, Virginia Tech sophomore Peter Seufer, hails from Lynchburg and graduated from E.C. Glass High School.

Kirwa joins Makepeace (14:03.88) and Rotich (14:04.80) as the only runners in the field without a sub-14:00 5K to their credit during their careers.

How the Event Will Progress in Eugene: The top eight finishers in Friday's race will score points for their respective teams and earn first team All-America honors. Placers No. 9-16 will become second team All-Americans. The remainder of the men's 5K runners will depart Eugene as honorable mention All-Americans.

What's at Stake for Kirwa: Kirwa is the first Liberty male to qualify for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships since 2013 (Ryan Smith – shot put, Isaac Wendland – 1,500).

Kirwa will try to score the Flames' first points at this meet since 2012, when Kolby Shepherd tied for fifth place in the men's pole vault.

Sam Chelanga was the Flames' last sophomore male to earn All-America honors, doing so in the indoor men's 5K and outdoor men's 10K in 2009.

Four of Liberty's five previous appearances in the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships men's 5K have resulted in All-America honors. After failing to make the final in 2005, Josh McDougal came in ninth in 2006 and fourth in 2007. Sam Chelanga was the 2010 national runner-up before punctuating his collegiate career with a 5K national title in 2011.

Kirwa will attempt to join McDougal (13:20.43), Chelanga (13:28.31) and Caleb Edmonds (13:57.09) as the only Flames ever to break the 14-minute barrier for an outdoor 5K. Additionally, only seven total Big South runners have ever done so.