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Kirwa Qualifies for NCAA XC Championship with 3rd-Place Finish

November 10, 2017  Earlysville, Va.  RSS
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Azaria Kirwa punched his ticket to the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships by placing third on Friday.

Azaria Kirwa punched his ticket to the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships by placing third on Friday.

Liberty junior Azaria Kirwa will make his first visit to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, thanks to an impressive third-place finish at Friday's NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. Kirwa's front running at Panorama Farms led the Liberty men's squad to seventh place in the team standings, the Flames' best regional performance since 2012. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames finished 26th in the women's team standings.

Kirwa was part of a 1-2-3 finish by Big South men's runners, as he trailed the Campbell duo of Lawrence Kipkoech and Amon Kemboi. All five of the Flames' scorers placed in the top 79, helping Liberty come in seventh out of 32 men's squads with 241 points, just two points behind sixth-place Charlotte. The Flames' last top-seven finish at this meet was a seventh-place effort in 2012. Up front, No. 7 Furman (55 points) and No. 9 Virginia Tech (109) were the men's team champion and runner-up, respectively.

Featuring a tight 48-second spread between its No. 1 (Noel Palmer) and No. 5 (Mary Kate McElroy) runners, Liberty placed 26th of 37 women's teams with 745 points. The Lady Flames finished one spot ahead of Big South runner-up Campbell. No. 5 NC State repeated as regional champions with 68 points, while No. 12 Furman claimed the other NCAA automatic qualifying spot with 83 tallies.

Men's 10K Championship Recap
Last season, Campbell's Amon Terer and Lawrence Kipkoech finished 1-2 at the 2016 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. This time around, the conference did one better, with Big South standouts Kipkoech (28:45.3), Kemboi (28:53.8) and Kirwa (28:57.0) leading the pack of 230 men's runners across the finish line.

Kirwa, who ran up front throughout the 10K course, notched not only his first career All-Region honor but the best regional finish by a Flame since 2010. That year, Liberty's Sam Chelanga and Evans Kigen went 1-2. Next Saturday, Kirwa will become the first Liberty men's runner to compete at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships since Chelanga and Kigen raced in Terre Haute, Ind., in 2010.

Redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer (43rd place, 30:29.4) and redshirt senior Samuel Proctor (50th, 30:36.7) were two of the biggest movers forward during the men's race. For Zentmeyer, the finish represented a marked improvement over his 186th-place showing during his only previous regional appearance, in 2015.

Augostine Lisoreng made it four Flames to break 31 minutes, as his 30:59.0 was good for 69th place overall and ninth among freshmen.

Senior Graham Hansel came in 79th at this meet for the second year in a row, thanks to a personal-best 10K time of 31:12.7.

Redshirt junior Louis Paone recorded both his best regional placement (139th) and 10K time (32:23.9) of his career as the Flames' No. 6 finisher.

Women's 6K Championship Recap
Palmer made a solid regional meet debut, crossing the line 126th out of 257 finishers with a 6K time of 22:48.8. She placed seventh among Big South runners and 19th among freshmen in Friday's race.

Junior Kammi Kurtz finished 12 seconds later (23:00.8) for 142nd place, her best career showing at this meet.

Sophomore Brooke Turner (23:14.5) and redshirt senior Alyssa Karle (23:17.2) both moved up during the latter stages of the race, ending up in 160th and 162nd, respectively.

Freshman McElroy closed out the team scoring with her 174th-place finish in 23:37.1.

Fellow freshman Lauren Hirneisen came in 183rd at 23:48.2, while sophomore Kelly Shaffer clocked 23:57.4 for the 191th position after passing 42 runners during the final 4K of the race.

Up Next
Kirwa will compete in the men's 10K at the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. The meet is slated for Nov. 18 at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., with the men's race set to begin at 11:45 a.m.