Junior Azaria Kirwa placed second in the men's 8K, leading the host Liberty men's team to a runner-up finish at the 2017 Big South Cross Country Championships, Saturday at the Liberty Cross Country Course. Meanwhile, junior Kammi Kurtz's sixth-place showing in the women's 5K helped the Lady Flames take third place as a team.
Hosting the Big South meet for the first time since 2008 and the second time overall, the Liberty men's squad nearly gave its fans an upset victory to cheer about. The Flames put five runners in the top 12 and eight in the top 20, finishing just four points (38-42) behind national No. 28 Campbell, which captured its third straight Big South title.
The Camels' four-point margin of victory was the smallest at the Big South Men's Cross Country Championship since Coastal Carolina edged Campbell, 62-66, in 1993. Head Coach Brant Tolsma's Liberty men's team has now recorded 15 consecutive top-two finishes at this meet, including four straight runner-up performances.
On the women's side, High Point won its third Big South title in four years with 29 points. Campbell took runner-up honors, finishing just five points (75-80) ahead of the defending champion Lady Flames.
Kurtz, who owns a 3.30 GPA in nursing, and redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer, an aviation major with a 3.77 GPA, represented Liberty on the Big South All-Academic Team.
For the first time since 2005, five Liberty men's runners made the All-Big South team. The Flames' honorees included Kirwa, Zentmeyer (seventh place), redshirt senior Samuel Proctor (10th), freshman Augostine Lisoreng (11th) and senior Graham Hansel (12th).
Kurtz was the Lady Flames' lone All-Big South performer, earning the honor for the second consecutive season.
Men's 8K Championship Recap Kirwa ran in front of the pack of 79 men's runners for much of the race, alongside the Campbell duo of freshman Amon Kemboi and junior Lawrence Kipkoech. In the end, Kemboi pulled out a 1.6-second victory, running a course-record time of 24:14.7 to Kirwa's 24:16.3.
Kirwa became the 14th Liberty men's cross country runner ever to claim three or more All-Big South honors in his career, following his fifth-place finish in 2015 and his fourth-place effort in 2016.
After missing the 2016 Big South meet due to injury, Zentmeyer continued his stellar 2017 season with a seventh-place finish. He clocked a time of 25:29.2, holding off High Point freshman Houcine Bouchark by 0.6 seconds at the finish line.
The 2016 WAC men's cross country runner-up, Proctor came in 10th during his Big South cross country debut. He ran 26:09.3, leading a procession of four straight Flames across the finish line.
Lisoreng was the fourth-fastest freshman on the day, finishing 11th in 26:11.4. Hansel clocked 26:18.1 for 12th place in his fourth and final Big South Cross Country Championship, improving upon his previous best finish of 19th.
Liberty then showcased its depth, as its No. 6, 7 and 8 runners all crossed the finish line before any other team's No. 5 scorer. Redshirt freshman Benjamin Klemmeck took 13th place in 26:27.7, followed by junior Jack Tidball (19th, 26:42.7) and redshirt senior Colin Schultz (20th, 26:47.9).
Tidball was the 19th and final runner to break the 8K course record of 26:43.9, set by Kirwa at the only previous meet in course history, the Sept. 16 Liberty Big South Preview. Tidball, making his 2017 season debut for the Flames, recorded his first top-20 finish at this meet.
Injuries slowed Liberty's final two entrants on Saturday, redshirt sophomore Nick Doan (27th, 27:11.5) and redshirt junior Louis Paone (34th, 27:37.4).
Women's 5K Championship Recap Kurtz steadily moved up through the pack on Saturday, ending up sixth of 74 women's runners in 18:42.8. She improved upon her eighth-place finish from the 2016 Big South meet and sliced seven seconds off her 5K personal best, despite the challenging course.
Sophomore Brooke Turner served as the Lady Flames' No. 2 runner, placing 13th with a personal-best 19:15.8 clocking.
The Lady Flames' lone senior, Alyssa Karle finished in 19:29.0 for 18th place, her best showing in four career Big South Cross Country Championships.
In a race where freshmen finished 1-2-3 overall, Liberty's top rookie was Lauren Hirneisen. She came in 23rd with a time of 19:35.7, 53 seconds faster than her effort at last month's Liberty Big South Preview.
After serving as the No. 6 runner for the Big South champion Lady Flames last season, sophomore Kelly Shaffer was the team's fifth and final scorer on Saturday. Her time of 19:44.5 was good for 25th place.
A pair of freshmen, Noel Palmer (27th, 19:52.4) and Mary Kate McElroy (30th, 20:09.7), rounded out Liberty's top seven. Palmer, the Lady Flames' leader for much of the 2017 season, stood in third place at the two-mile mark but could not hold her position during the closing stages.
Sophomores Gabriella Delbo (32nd, 20:15.7), Torree Scull (38th, 20:30.4) and Erin Hansel (44th, 20:48.1) also competed for the Lady Flames on a picture-perfect morning for running, with sunny skies and a temperature in the 50s and low 60s.
Up Next A small group of Flames and Lady Flames will travel to Blacksburg, Va., on Friday for the Hokie Open. The men's 6K will begin at 4:30 p.m., followed by the women's 4K at 5:10.
Meanwhile, Liberty's top seven men's and women's runners will prepare for the 2017 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. The qualifying meet for the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will take place on Nov. 10 at Panorama Farms in Earlysville, Va. The women's 6K will go off at 10:30 a.m., followed by the men's 10K at 11:30.
Final Men's Team Scores 1) Campbell – 38 2) Liberty – 42 3) Charleston Southern – 86 4) UNC Asheville – 105 5) Radford – 107 6) High Point – 159 7) Winthrop – 211 8) Gardner-Webb – 242 9) Presbyterian – 244 10) Longwood – 277
Final Women's Team Scores 1) High Point – 29 2) Campbell – 75 3) Liberty – 80 4) UNC Asheville – 109 5) Radford – 137 6) Winthrop – 155 7) Charleston Southern – 159 8) Gardner-Webb – 207 9) Presbyterian – 236 10) Longwood – 297
Men's Runner of the Year Amon Kemboi, Campbell
Women's Runner of the Year Famke Heinst, High Point
Men's Freshman of the Year Amon Kemboi, Campbell
Women's Freshman of the Year Famke Heinst, High Point
Men's Coach of the Year Michael Kelly, Campbell
Women's Coach of the Year Remy Tamer, High Point
Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Keaton Poole, Gardner-Webb
Women's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Gabrielle Cortese, Gardner-Webb
Men's All-Academic Team Hunter Gilbert, Campbell Jeryck Wilson, Charleston Southern Keaton Poole, Gardner-Webb Alejandro Juan Torres, High Point James Zentmeyer, Liberty Duncan Gotfredson, Presbyterian Mak Casey, Radford Zach Boone, UNC Asheville Kevin Mills, Winthrop
Women's All-Academic Team Roshae Jackson, Campbell Bethany Thornhill, Charleston Southern Gabrielle Cortese, Gardner-Webb Zoe Geis, High Point Kammi Kurtz, Liberty Casey Ripp, Longwood Sally Hart, Presbyterian Percie Lyons, Radford Phoebe Schneider, UNC Asheville Victoria Burdette, Winthrop
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