James Zentmeyer (left), Samuel Proctor (second from left) and Nick Doan (far right) all dipped under 24:30 during Saturday's men's 8K at Pre-Nationals.
Five weeks before the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Liberty previewed the championship course at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park during Saturday's Pre-Nationals. Junior Azaria Kirwa's fourth-place individual finish led the Flames to an impressive 10th place in the men's red (seeded) race team standings. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames came in 19th in the women's black (unseeded) race.
Facing some of the nation's top teams in the men's red 8K, Liberty equaled its best-ever finish in a Pre-Nationals seeded race. The Flames totaled 383 points for 10th place of 41 teams, matching the 10th-place showing by the Sam Chelanga-led Liberty team in the 2010 white race.
Liberty finished just nine points behind No. 5 Arkansas and defeated No. 19 Georgetown (14th place) by 64 tallies in the day's first of four races. The Flames also took down Charlotte (11th place, 400 points), the seventh-ranked team in the Southeast Region. Up front, No. 2 BYU scored just 41 points for first place, outdistancing runner-up No. 7 Colorado (118) and third-place No. 8 Oregon (129).
For the second straight year, the Lady Flames came in 19th (out of 29 teams) in the black (unseeded) 6K race at Pre-Nationals. Liberty, which totaled 476 points, ended up seven places and 92 points ahead of Big South rival Campbell. Nevada claimed the women's black race team title by a score of 62-96 over BYU's B team.
Men's 8K Race Recap Kirwa sliced 20 seconds off of his previous 8K best, clocking 23:11.4 for fourth place out of 282 men's finishers. The native of Eldoret, Kenya steadily moved up through the field after sitting in 84th place at the 2K split and 19th at the halfway mark. Kirwa ended up just three seconds behind race champion Rory Linkletter of BYU (23:08.4).
Kirwa edged fifth-place Dillon Maggard of Utah State (23:12.1) at the finish line, two weeks after Maggard was the lone runner to defeat Kirwa at the Paul Short Run. Kirwa was the second Big South runner to finish, trailing third-place Amon Kemboi of Campbell (23:11.1). Kirwa did defeat 2015 Big South champion Lawrence Kipkoech of Campbell, who came in 23rd at 23:32.8.
Kirwa's outstanding performance came 365 days after he had finished 82nd in the unseeded race at the 2016 Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind. Since then, Kirwa made his first-ever visit to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Saturday's performance cemented his status as a strong contender for qualification to next month's 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
Three of Kirwa's teammates also dipped under 24:30 on Saturday, including redshirt senior Samuel Proctor (62nd place, personal-best 24:10.5), redshirt sophomore Nick Doan (73rd, 24:17.1) and redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer (91st, personal-best 24:25.5). Like Kirwa, Proctor, Doan and Zentmeyer all made considerable moves forward through the pack during the second half of the race.
Redshirt junior Louis Paone stepped up as the Flames' No. 5 runner on Saturday, posting a personal-best time of 25:01.2 for 166th place. Freshmen Augostine Lisoreng (203rd, 25:18.3) and Benjamin Klemmeck (234th, 25:30.5) closed out Liberty's red race competitors.
The Flames displayed additional team depth on Saturday, as seniors Graham Hansel (68th place, 25:27.5) and Colin Schultz (97th, 25:49.3) each set new 8K personal bests during the men's black (unseeded) race.
Women's 6K Race Recap Freshman Noel Palmer was the Lady Flames' No. 1 finisher for the third straight meet, as her 6K time of 22:11.4 placed 57th of 259 black race runners.
Junior teammate Kammi Kurtz crossed the line just 2.6 seconds later, claiming 63rd place in 22:14.0.
Brooke Turner continued her breakthrough sophomore season, clocking 22:44.8 for the 113th spot.
Redshirt senior Alyssa Karle (163rd, 23:22.7) and freshman Lauren Hirneisen (165th, 23:23.3) finished side-by-side as Liberty's No. 4 and 5 scorers.
Liberty's No. 6 and 7 runners were both sophomores, including Kelly Shaffer (206th, 24:01.4) and Gabriella Delbo (211th, 24:04.3).
Up Next For the second time in program history and the first time since 2008, Liberty will play host to the Big South Cross Country Championships on Oct. 28. The meet will be the second event contested at the Flames' new course, located adjacent to the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.
The men's 8K will begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the women's 5K at 11:30. The Lady Flames will look to defend their Big South title from 2016, while the Flames are aiming for their first Big South crown since 2013.
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