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Kirwa Ready for NCAA XC Championship Debut

November 16, 2017  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Azaria Kirwa (front left) will make his NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship debut Saturday in Louisville, Ky.
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Liberty junior Azaria Kirwa will make his NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship debut Saturday morning at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.

The first Liberty men's runner to qualify for this meet since 2010, Kirwa will begin the men's 10K at 11:45 a.m.

How to Keep Up with Kirwa
FloTrack will provide live video streaming coverage of Saturday's race, but a $29.99 monthly subscription is required.

Live results will be available throughout the race, courtesy of Record Timing.

Weather Report
Saturday is forecasted to be an unsettled weather day in Louisville. The high temperature is expected to reach 60 degrees in the morning before falling throughout the day. Additionally, rain and possible thunderstorms are likely with wind gusting to 30 mph or greater.

Checking Out the Course
The course at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park is playing host to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for the third time, and Liberty runners have competed there on both previous occasions. Jennifer Klugh raced in Louisville in 2012, while Ednah Kurgat competed in the 2015 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Kirwa has posted some of his fastest 8K times on the mostly flat course in Louisville, including the best 8K (24:15.1) of his freshman year at 2015 Pre-Nationals and a career-best 23:11.4 clocking at this year's Pre-Nationals. Saturday will mark Kirwa's first time running a 10K at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park.

How He Got Here
Kirwa punched his ticket to Louisville as an individual qualifier by placing third at the Nov. 10 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships with a 10K personal-best time of 28:57.0.

A native of Eldoret, Kenya, Kirwa was part of a 1-2-3 Big South Conference finish at the regional meet, trailing only Campbell teammates Lawrence Kipkoech and Amon Kemboi. Nadeel Wildschutt of former Big South member Coastal Carolina placed fourth and will join the current Big South trio on the starting line in Louisville.

Sensational Season
Saturday's race will be Kirwa's seventh of the 2017 season, and he has placed inside the top four at each of his first six races this fall.

Kirwa's season has included his first collegiate cross country individual victory (Sept. 16 – Liberty Big South Preview), two runner-up finishes (Sept. 29 – Paul Short Run and Oct. 28 – Big South Championship), two third-place finishes (Sept. 2 – UVA Duals and Nov. 10 – NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championship) and a fourth-place showing in the Pre-Nationals red race on Oct. 14.

In total, Kirwa's six races this season have included 1,011 runners. He has finished in front of 996 (98.5 percent) of them. BYU's Rory Linkletter and Campbell's Amon Kemboi are the only opponents Kirwa has raced against this season who he has not defeated at least once.

National Debut
Kirwa will be making his first appearance at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on Saturday.

Kirwa previously qualified for the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in June, placing 22nd in the men's 5K final.

It's Been a While
Liberty men's runners qualified for seven consecutive NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, spanning 2004 and 2010.

However, Kirwa will be the first Liberty men's competitor to race at this meet since Sam Chelanga placed first and Evans Kigen took 31st at the 2010 championship in Terre Haute, Ind.

What to Watch For
Kirwa is seeking his first career All-America honor and could earn one if he finishes inside the top 40 runners on Saturday.

Kirwa will look to become Liberty's fourth NCAA Division I men's cross country All-American, joining Sam Chelanga (2008, 2009, 2010), Evans Kigen (2009, 2010) and Josh McDougal (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007).

McDougal (2007) and Chelanga (2009, 2010) combined to win three NCAA Division I men's cross country individual championships.

Chelanga captured his first national title as a junior in 2009, while Kigen (2009) and McDougal (2006) placed 20th and 27th, respectively, during their junior seasons.

In Good Company
Kirwa has clocked 8K and 10K times this season which rank him in the company of past NCAA Division I cross country national champions Sam Chelanga and Josh McDougal on Liberty's all-time list.

Kirwa's 8K time of 23:11.4 at Pre-Nationals ranks No. 3 all-time at Liberty, trailing only Chelanga's school-record 22:51.3 effort and McDougal's 22:56.4 clocking.

At the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, Kirwa completed the 10K course in 28:57.0. Chelanga (28:41.3) is the only Flame who has ever run a faster cross country 10K.

Steady Progression
Kirwa has made consistent improvement during his three years at Liberty. At the Big South Cross Country Championship, he went from fifth place as a freshman to fourth as a sophomore to the runner-up position this season.

The nursing major came in 68th at the 2015 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championship before improving to 31st in 2016 and third this season.

Sizing Up the Competition
This will be the first year since 2011 that the men's individual champion is not returning to defend his title at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Two of the top finishers from Kirwa's 5K race at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships are expected to battle for top honors on Saturday, including race champion Grant Fisher of Stanford and third-place Justyn Knight of Syracuse. Fisher is vying to become the first American male to win the NCAA cross country title since Oregon's Galen Rupp in 2008.

Kirwa is currently listed No. 12 on FloTrack's individual national rankings and defeated two of the athletes listed ahead of him (No. 6 Joe Klecker of Colorado and No. 10 Connor McMillan of BYU) at Pre-Nationals.