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Liberty Set to Host Big South XC Championships, Saturday

October 26, 2017  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Saturday morning, Liberty will play host to the Big South Cross Country Championships for the second time overall and the first time since 2008. The meet will be the second event ever contested at the new Liberty Cross Country Course, located adjacent to the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.

The men's 8K will get the day started at 10:30 a.m. Liberty will aim for its 16th Big South crown but first since 2013. The women's 5K will follow at 11:30, as the Lady Flames attempt to defend their Big South title from 2016.

Following the awards ceremony, at approximately 12:45 p.m., an open 5K will be contested on the women's course. The race is free of charge, and no official times or results will be kept at the finish line.    

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live results will be available during both races, courtesy of Blue Ridge Timing. Please note the three separate links for unofficial men's in-race splits, unofficial women's in-race splits and official post-race results and team scores.

Periodic updates will be posted to the Liberty Track & Field/Cross Country Twitter account (@Liberty_XCTF) throughout the day.

Weather Report
Friday's weather forecast calls for nearly ideal running conditions, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s and 60s.

Checking Out the Course
The Liberty Cross Country Course is located adjacent to the Liberty Indoor Track Complex, which is beneath the LU monogram off of Candlers Mountain Road. The road leading back to the course may be found directly across the street from the Fairfield Inn & Suites. The hotel's address is 3777 Candlers Mountain Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502.

Most of the course is located in the wooded area between the Liberty Indoor Track Complex and Route 460. The 5K course includes one small loop (approximately one mile) and one large loop (approximately two miles). The 8K course follows the 5K course before making a second lap around the large loop.

The course features numerous hills and is not conducive to fast times. At the Sept. 16 Liberty Big South Preview, only 12 of 43 men's runners broke 28 minutes on the 8K course, while only 15 of 48 women's competitors ran a sub-20:00 5K.

High Point's Famke Heinst owns the women's 5K course record at 18:41.2. Liberty's Azaria Kirwa is the men's 8K course record holder at 26:43.9.

Looking Back
Liberty's previous time hosting the Big South Cross Country Championships came on Nov. 1, 2008. That course started where the East Campus Field House, home to Liberty's field hockey and lacrosse programs, is now located.

Liberty's men's team won its fourth consecutive Big South title by 36 points over runner-up High Point. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames placed second to Coastal Carolina by a single point, 54-55.

Recent Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Sam Chelanga captured his first Big South individual title, competing on his home course.

That same day, current Liberty Assistant Coach Rebekah Ricksecker was the Big South women's runner-up during her senior cross country season. She trailed only High Point's Zsanett Kis in the women's 5K race.

Chasing 100
Brant Tolsma achieved a milestone when the Liberty women's cross country team captured the 2016 Big South title. The victory marked his 100th conference championship as Liberty's cross country and track & field head coach.

Tolsma is now nearing the century mark for Big South Conference team championships. He enters Saturday's meet having coached 94 Big South title-winning cross country and track & field squads during his 32 years at Liberty.

Men's Team Preview
The Liberty men's cross country team has finished in the top two at this meet for 14 consecutive seasons, including nine victories and five runner-up finishes. However, the Flames will attempt to return to the top spot for the first time since collecting their ninth consecutive Big South team title in 2013.

Liberty finished just six points (31-37) behind Campbell in 2016, as the Camels claimed their second straight Big South championship. Only four of the Flames' competitors from last year's Big South Championship are expected to race on Saturday, including junior Azaria Kirwa (fourth place in 2016), senior Graham Hansel (19th), junior Jack Tidball (37th) and redshirt junior Louis Paone (43rd).

Redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer placed 14th at the 2015 Big South meet before missing the 2016 season due to injury. Redshirt senior Samuel Proctor was the WAC men's cross country runner-up a year ago, racing for Grand Canyon.

Kirwa, Proctor, Zentmeyer and redshirt sophomore Nick Doan have been Liberty's most consistent performers this fall. All four Flames broke 24:30 for the 8K at Pre-Nationals, two weeks ago. Liberty's key to victory on Saturday could be the performance of its No. 5 runner.

Liberty enters the meet ranked No. 7 in the Southeast Region, marking the Flames' highest regional ranking since 2013, their last Big South Championship season.

Liberty took the team title at the Liberty Big South Preview on Sept. 16, before posting its best-ever finishes at the Paul Short Run (sixth) and in the Pre-Nationals seeded race (10th).

The Flames defeated No. 19 Georgetown at Pre-Nationals. If they want to win on Saturday, they will have to take down another nationally ranked foe. At No. 28, Campbell is believed to be the first nationally ranked team in Big South cross country history.

Liberty and Campbell went head to head for the first time in 2017 at Pre-Nationals. The Camels came in eighth, finishing two places and 43 points ahead of the Flames.

Other Team Challenger
– Campbell has claimed back-to-back Big South men's cross country titles and is favored to make it three in a row on Saturday. The Camels enter the meet ranked No. 4 in the Southeast Region and No. 28 nationally. Campbell is being discussed as a possible qualifier to the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

The Camels return three of the top 11 finishers from the 2016 Big South meet, including runner-up (also the 2015 Big South individual champion) Lawrence Kipkoech, ninth-place Kelvin Kirui and 11th-place Meshack Kipruto. Freshman Amon Kemboi has also enjoyed a stellar 2017 campaign, highlighted by a victory at the Panorama Farms Invitational and a third-place finish at Pre-Nationals.

Sophomore Hunter Gilbert regularly serves as Campbell's No. 5 runner. He placed 27th at last year's Big South meet. Most recently, Gilbert clocked an 8K time of 26:00.3 at Pre-Nationals, a clocking bettered by nine Flames that day.

Team Notes
• Liberty has won a conference-high 15 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 26 appearances at the conference meet. During that span, the next closest Big South men's squad is High Point, with four titles.

• Liberty has recorded 14 consecutive top two finishes at the Big South meet. In addition to the Flames' run of nine straight titles (2005-13), Liberty placed second in 2003, 2004, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

• 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.

• Liberty captured the men's team title the only previous time it hosted the Big South Cross Country Championships (2008). The Flames are the most recent team to win the Big South title on their home course.

• Campbell is attempting to become the fourth Big South men's cross country team ever to win three or more conference titles in a row. The others are Liberty (1997-99, 2005-13), Radford (1985-90) and High Point (2002-04).

Men's Individual Preview
Liberty runners have won the men's individual title 17 times in the Flames' 26 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships, including a conference-record eight straight individual championships between 2004 and 2011. However, High Point runners finished first at three straight Big South meets (2012-14) before Campbell's Lawrence Kipkoech captured the 2015 title and the Camels' Amon Terer was victorious in 2016.

On Saturday, junior Azaria Kirwa appears poised to contend for Liberty's first Big South men's cross country individual title since Zac Edwards took top honors in 2011.

Kirwa has performed well in his first two Big South Cross Country Championship appearances, placing fifth in 2015 and fourth in 2016.

Kirwa's 2017 season has featured a victory at the Liberty Big South Preview, followed by a runner-up finish at the Paul Short Run and a fourth-place effort at Pre-Nationals. NCAA cross country national champions Sam Chelanga and Josh McDougal are the only two runners in program history who have ever run an 8K faster than Kirwa's 23:11.4 at Pre-Nationals.

Kirwa is chasing his first career Big South title, either in cross country on the track. His top finish to date was second in the men's 10K final at the 2017 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Saturday's race will feature a contrast in styles. Kirwa typically starts out conservatively before moving up through the field during the second half of the race. Meanwhile, Campbell standouts Lawrence Kipkoech and Amon Kemboi prefer to set the pace at the front of the pack.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
– Kemboi made an immediate impact during his freshman track & field season in 2017. He captured a pair of Big South titles (indoor mile, outdoor 5K), while posting impressive clockings in the 5K (13:47.77) and 10K (28:57.45).

Kemboi has carried that success over into his first collegiate cross country season. He was the Panorama Farms Invitational individual champion and took third place at Pre-Nationals, just 0.3 seconds ahead of Liberty's Azaria Kirwa.

Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell) – Kipkoech won the Big South men's cross country individual championship as a freshman in 2015, before finishing a close second to teammate Amon Terer in 2016.

The 26th-place finisher at the 2016 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Kipkoech placed second to Kemboi at the Panorama Farms Invitational and took 23rd at Pre-Nationals in his most recent outing.

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).

• A Liberty runner has placed inside the top three at this meet for 13 of the last 14 years.

• Azaria Kirwa will attempt to become the 14th men's runner in program history to earn at least three All-Big South cross country awards during his career.

• During the last three seasons, Liberty, High Point and Campbell runners have claimed 33 of the 36 All-Big South honors at this meet, including all 12 in 2015.

• Six of the 12 All-Big South performers from 2016 return in 2017.

• Lawrence Kipkoech will attempt to become the first multi-time Big South men's cross country champion since Liberty's Sam Chelanga won three years in a row (2008-10).

• Sam Chelanga was the last Big South men's cross country runner to finish first on his home course, doing so in 2008.

Women's Team Preview
The Liberty women's cross country team will look to defend its title from 2016 and win its 10th Big South championship overall. The Lady Flames are attempting to win back-to-back Big South women's cross country crowns for the first time since 2009 and 2010.

Only four of the 10 Lady Flames who raced at the 2016 Big South meet will be in action on Saturday, including Kammi Kurtz (eighth place), Kelly Shaffer (15th), Gabriella Delbo (25th) and Alyssa Karle (31st). Torree Scull, the 10th-place finisher as a freshman in 2015, is also back for the Lady Flames.

Noel Palmer, the 2016 VHSL 4A cross country state champion, has paced the Lady Flames for much of her freshman season. She was the Liberty Big South Preview runner-up and was tabbed Big South Women's Runner of the Week on Oct. 4.

Redshirt senior Karle and junior Kurtz will be the only two upperclassmen racing for the host Lady Flames on Saturday. They have provided strong leadership in 2017, while Brooke Turner has enjoyed a breakthrough sophomore season.

Liberty (four titles) and High Point (three titles) have combined to win seven of the last eight Big South women's cross country team championships. The Panthers defeated the Lady Flames, 19-43, in the teams' first meeting this season, the Liberty Big South Preview on Sept. 16.

Other Team Challenger
High Point
– High Point captured back-to-back Big South titles in 2014 and 2015, before finishing seven points (38-45) behind Liberty in second place in 2016.

Sophomore Zoe Geis is High Point's top returnee from the 2016 Big South Championship, where she placed ninth.

The Panthers have also been bolstered by the addition of freshmen Caroline Baudinet, Famke Heinst, Julia Hellman and Franziska Jakobs in 2017. All four of them placed inside the top six at the Liberty Big South Preview, paced by race champion Heinst.

High Point found the Liberty Cross Country Course to its liking at the Sept. 16 Liberty Big South Preview. Five of the top six finishers were Panthers, as High Point posted a 19-43 triumph over Liberty. High Point also took the team title at its own VertCross Invitational two weeks ago.

Team Notes
• Liberty has won back-to-back Big South women's cross country team titles on three previous occasions (1991-92, 2006-07 and 2009-10).

• The Lady Flames are attempting to join Coastal Carolina (13 titles) as the only Big South women's cross country squads ever to win 10 or more championships.

• Four current conference members have claimed Big South women's team titles in past years, led by Liberty with nine championships. UNC Asheville has been victorious four times, while High Point and Radford own three crowns apiece.

• The last three Big South women's cross country team titles have been decided by a total of 17 points.

• Coastal Carolina was the most recent host team to win the Big South women's cross country team title, doing so in 2003.

Women's Individual Preview
Only two of the top 10 women's finishers from the 2016 Big South Cross Country Championships have competed in a race this season, including Liberty's Kammi Kurtz (eighth) and High Point's Zoe Geis (ninth). As a result, this year's race is a bit unpredictable.

Kurtz will look to make another step forward in 2017, after improving from 41st place at the 2015 Big South meet to eighth in 2016. She has often stepped up in big races, including a runner-up finish in the 2017 Big South 10K final on the track.

For much of the season, Kurtz has been chasing freshman teammate Noel Palmer. Palmer finished second at the Liberty Big South Preview, just five seconds behind race champion Famke Heinst of High Point. Two weeks later, Palmer clocked a 6K time of 21:25 at the Paul Short Run which ranks No. 7 in program history.

No Liberty freshman has ever won the Big South women's cross country individual title.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Famke Heinst (High Point)
– Heinst immediately stepped in as High Point's top women's runner as a freshman this fall. She won the Liberty Big South Preview individual title, placed second at the Elon Opener and VertCross Invitational and came in an impressive sixth at the Panorama Farms Invitational.

A native of Gelderland, Netherlands, Heinst is a three-time Big South Women's Runner of the Week.

Michaela Louw (Campbell) – Louw is another of the Big South's talented freshmen this fall. Most recently, the South Africa native clocked a 6K time of 21:47.7 for 32nd place in the Pre-Nationals black race.

Louw competed on the track for the Camels in 2017, highlighted by a fourth-place finish in the Big South indoor 5K in 17:47.58.

Joan Maritim (Campbell) – Maritim was the Big South runner-up in 2014, before capturing the Camels' first-ever Big South women's cross country individual title a year ago.

Maritim has not run a race in 2017, but will certainly be a runner to watch if she is on the starting line this Saturday. In addition to her cross country success, Maritim won Big South titles in the indoor mile, 3K and 5K and outdoor 10K last year.

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).

• High Point's last Big South women's cross country individual title came in 2008 (Zsanett Kis), the last time Liberty hosted the meet.

• The last freshman to capture the Big South women's cross country individual crown was Coastal Carolina's Julia Viellehner in 2006.

• The Big South's last back-to-back women's champion was Liberty's Jennifer Klugh, who won three titles in a row between 2010 and 2012.

• The last Big South women's runner to finish first on her home course was Coastal Carolina's Anne Marie Moutsinga in 2003.