The Liberty men's cross country team won its unprecedented seventh consecutive Big South title on Saturday.
Liberty fared quite well at Saturday morning's Big South Cross Country Championships at Coastal Carolina's Quail Creek Golf Club. Zac Edwards captured the men's individual title, leading the Flames to their unprecedented seventh consecutive team championship. Jennifer Klugh then helped the Lady Flames place second as a team by capturing the women's individual title for the second year in a row. Edwards' 8K course-record time of 23:56 paced five Liberty men's runners who finished inside the top 11. As a result, the Flames were able to withstand a strong effort by High Point, which saw its top three runners place 2-3-4 in the overall standings. Liberty's seven-point margin of victory (33-40) over the Panthers was its smallest during its current run of seven consecutive conference championships, which is the longest title streak in Big South men's cross country history. The Flames have now won 13 total Big South men's cross country team titles during their 21 years of competition as a conference member. In the women's race, Klugh narrowly missed her own 5K school record with a winning time of 17:29. She was one of Liberty's four top-16 finishers on the day, as the Lady Flames tallied 59 points. That left Liberty 26 tallies behind High Point, which won its first-ever Big South title with a score of 33. The Lady Flames have now recorded a top-two team finish at the Big South meet for eight straight seasons, including four championships and four runner-up placings. After the race, Liberty head coach Brant Tolsma was voted Big South Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year for the seventh straight year and the 11th time overall. He has now won 47 Big South Coach of the Year trophies during his 26 years of coaching cross country and track & field for the Flames.
Men's Meet Recap Edwards, a redshirt junior, made his first Big South Championship appearance a memorable one. He rolled to an 18-second victory over High Point's Jacob Smith, making it eight straight years that a Liberty men's runner has captured the Big South individual championship. It also extended Edwards' personal winning streak to three straight races this season, after capturing titles at the Coastal Carolina Invitational/Big South Preview (Sept. 17) and the Charlotte Invitational (Sept. 30). Edwards' time of 23:56 was the third-fastest ever by a Liberty men's runner at the Big South meet. Only Liberty assistant coach Josh McDougal (23:49 in 2004) and two-time NCAA national cross country champion Sam Chelanga (23:50 in 2009) have bettered Edwards' Saturday clocking at this meet. Edwards is now a two-time individual conference cross country champion during his collegiate career. He previously won the Sun Belt Conference men's cross country title in 2009, while representing South Alabama. Behind Edwards, the Liberty trio of David Ricksecker, Caleb Edmonds and Josh MacDonald placed sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, each earning All-Big South honors. Ricksecker is now a two-time All-Big South performer in cross country, while sophomores Edmonds and MacDonald both garnered their first all-conference distinctions on Saturday. Ricksecker's time of 24:36 established a new 8K personal best, while Edmonds' 24:46 clocking shaved 24 seconds off of his previous best. Edmonds, a health promotions major with a 3.79 cumulative grade-point average, also made the Big South All-Academic team. MacDonald followed closely behind Edmonds in a time of 24:50. One of the biggest keys to Liberty's team title was the 11th-place finish of redshirt junior Isaac Wendland. His 25:09 effort was the Iowa native's fastest 8K ever by 47 seconds, and he was one of the race's fastest finishers. Wendland passed seven runners during the final three kilometers, including a trio of High Point Panthers. Sophomore Zach Barker broke the 26-minute mark for the first time on Saturday, stopping the clock in 25:54 for 29th place. Redshirt freshman Nate Jones was yet another Liberty runner to record a personal best for the 8K distance, posting a 26:09 to net a 34th-place finish.
Women's Meet Recap Klugh became the second Lady Flame ever to win a pair of Big South women's cross country individual championships, joining Heather Sagan (2000-01). Klugh was the first conference runner to successfully defend her crown since Coastal Carolina's Anne Marie Moutsinga in 2002 and 2003. Klugh, who finished 17 seconds in front of Winthrop's Jeanne Stroud, was less than a second away from breaking her own program 5K cross country record of 17:28.3, set Sept. 30 at the Charlotte Invitational. However, her 17:29 clocking was the fastest a Lady Flame has ever run at the Big South Championship, eclipsing Sagan's 17:38 effort from 2001. Klugh is now just the sixth Lady Flame ever to win three All-Big South honors in cross country. The mathematics major with a 3.43 cumulative grade-point average also made the Big South All-Academic team for the second year in a row. For the second straight year, junior Khristina Kanagy enjoyed a big breakthrough at the Big South meet. She lowered her 5K personal best from 18:38 to 18:01, earning a sixth-place finish in the field of 89 and her first career All-Big South distinction. Fellow junior Betel Yosef came in 12th while lowering her fastest 5K time to 18:23. Jacy Christiansen ran the 5K 55 seconds faster than she had during her last visit to the course, at the Coastal Carolina Invitational/Big South Preview on Sept. 17. Christiansen's official time was 18:37, placing her 16th overall and second among freshmen. She was just two seconds behind Big South Freshman of the Year Emily Dinning from VMI. Sophomore Katie Russo dipped below the 19-minute barrier for the first time in her collegiate career, running an 18:57 for 25th place. Meredith Mistretta and Alyssa Allen posted matching times of 19:14, crossing the line side-by-side in 36th and 37th place, respectively, and closing out the Lady Flames' top seven finishers. The Flames and Lady Flames will now prepare for the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. The qualifying meet for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will be contested Nov. 12 at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. The men's 10K will begin at 10 a.m., followed by the women's 6K race at 11:15.
Final Men's Team Scores 1) Liberty – 33 2) High Point – 40 3) VMI – 83 4) Campbell – 120 5) Winthrop – 139 6) Radford – 168 7) Coastal Carolina – 197 8) UNC Asheville – 223 9) Charleston Southern – 236 10) Gardner-Webb – 263
Final Women's Team Scores 1) High Point – 33 2) Liberty – 59 3) Coastal Carolina – 81 4) Campbell – 91 5) Winthrop – 146 6) VMI – 155 7) Charleston Southern – 209 8) Gardner-Webb – 230 9) UNC Asheville – 238 10) Radford – 250
Men's Runner of the Year Zac Edwards, Liberty
Women's Runner of the Year Jennifer Klugh, Liberty
Men's Freshman of the Year Reece Ayers, High Point
Women's Freshman of the Year Emily Dinning, VMI
Men's Coach of the Year Brant Tolsma, Liberty
Women's Coach of the Year Mike Esposito, High Point
Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Neal Darmody, High Point
Women's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Kelsey Fraser, High Point
Men's All-Academic Team Neal Darmody, High Point Hayden Hodges, VMI Caleb Edmonds, Liberty Mike McClay, Gardner-Webb Matt Smith, Charleston Southern Chris Schulist, Campbell Cameron Wells, Coastal Carolina Brian Trail, Presbyterian College Adam Freudenthal, Winthrop
Women's All-Academic Team Kelsey Fraser, High Point Jenna Moye, VMI Jennifer Klugh, Liberty Jeanne Stroud, Winthrop Heidi Dean, Charleston Southern Ashley Matthews, Campbell Janel Reeves, Coastal Carolina Ellie Glunk, Gardner-Webb Kylie Smith, UNC Asheville Stephanie Newell, Presbyterian College Hannah Scheren, Radford