Azaria Kirwa came in 25th at Saturday's NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. (Photo by Ricky Bassman)
Liberty junior Azaria Kirwa placed 25th in the men's 10K at Saturday morning's 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at a windy E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park, earning his first career All-America certificate.
Kirwa clocked a time of 29:46.46 to become the fourth NCAA Division I All-American in Liberty men's cross country history, joining the company of Sam Chelanga, Evans Kigen and Josh McDougal in that exclusive club. Kirwa's All-America honor was the Flames' first at this meet since Chelanga won the national title and Kigen placed 31st in 2010.
Competing in his first NCAA Division I Cross Country Championship, Kirwa started a bit conservatively. His 2K split of 5:50.9 left him in 87th place among the 254-runner field.
Within the next two kilometers, Kirwa passed 69 runners, moving into the 18th spot at the 4K pole with an 11:43.6 split. The Eldoret, Kenya native covered the ground between the 2K and 4K marks in 5:52.9, fastest of any runner in the race.
Kirwa was up to 11th place by 8K, which he reached in 23:42.1. By way of comparison, he had never run faster than 24 minutes for a cross country 8K race before this season.
A number of runners passed Kirwa during the downhill finishing stretch of the course, but he still finished well within the top 40 runners who earned All-America status and 46 seconds behind national champion Justyn Knight of Syracuse.
Kirwa was one of three Big South Conference runners to become All-Americans on Saturday, along with the Campbell duo of Lawrence Kipkoech (ninth place) and Amon Kemboi (29th place).
Northern Arizona claimed its second straight team national title with 74 points, easily outdistancing runner-up Portland (127 points).
Kirwa punctuated an exceptional junior cross country season, which also featured his first all-region honor (third place), his third All-Big South medal (second place) and a pair of lofty finishes at elite invitationals (second at Paul Short Run, fourth at Pre-Nationals).
Up Next With the 2017 cross country season now complete, Kirwa and the Flames will turn their attention to the track. Liberty will begin the 2018 indoor track & field season at the Keydet Invitational, Jan. 19-20 at VMI's new Corps Physical Training Facility in Lexington, Va.