Runners Sweep Big South

Liberty entered the Big South Conference Cross Country Championships with the opportunity to tie records, end droughts and win big. Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams had significant goals to meet going into the competition in Blacksburg, Va., Saturday morning.

The women’s team was looking for its second consecutive Big South cross-country title. Liberty’s women’s cross country aimed to win the Virginia title for the first time. Individually, the Lady Flames hoped that one of them would win an individual Big South title that they have not held since Heather Sagan’s back-to-back 5,000 meter Big South championships in 2000 and 2001.

The top five runners in the women’s race were Liberty’s Jennifer Klugh with a time of 17 minutes, 54 seconds, VMI’s Tammy Cheung at 18:00, Liberty’s Dacia Bushman at 18:07, Liberty’s Hailey Neal at 18:18, and High Point’s Emily Webb at 18:27. For the first time at the Big South Women’s Cross Country Championship, the Lady Flames filled three of the top five spots. Dacia Bushman’s finish within the top 10 makes her the fifth Lady Flame to achieve three All-Big South honors in cross country.

Liberty’s Khristina Kanagy came in 12th with a time of 18:44. Betel Yosef was the fifth Liberty runner to cross the finish line in 19th place with a time of 18:52.

Liberty women’s cross country placed first overall, defeating runner-up Coastal Carolina by a margin of 25 points, 64-39. This met two of Liberty’s goals:  winning the second consecutive Big South cross country title, and Jennifer Klugh being declared Women’s Runner of the Year and Women’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, making a Lady Flame an individual title holder once more.

“Regionals is next so I’m hoping to try to make it at regionals,” Klugh said.  “Its actually becoming a possibility which is crazy, but I’m just hoping to make it out there and end the season on a good note.”

Liberty coach Brant Tolsma was named women’s and men’s coach of the year.

“It was just a wonderful day for us,” Tolsma said.  “We’re really thankful.  Everything went well.”

Liberty’s men’s cross country group competed in an 8k at 11:30 a.m. The Flames hoped to win their sixth consecutive Big South championship. The Flames also hoped to have three runners in the top five as they have four of the last five years.

The Liberty Flames filled the first three runner spots with Sam Chelanga at 24:03, Evans Kigen at 24:35 and Josh Edmonds at 24:44. They were followed by High Point’s Neal Darmody at 24:53 and Winthrop’s Adam Fruedanthal at 24:56, rounding out the top five.

Josh MacDonald came in 11th place for Liberty with a time of 25:28.  Jake Reed was Liberty’s fifth place runner coming in 16th overall with a time of 25:54.

Liberty’s men’s cross country team led second-place High Point by 12 points, 45-33, tying Radford’s record of six consecutive conference championships. Sam Chelanga won the seventh consecutive individual title for Liberty en route to winning Men’s Runner of the Year and setting a course record with his time. Liberty’s win also marks the first 1-2-3 sweep for the team since 2007.

“Its good that we are healthy, we are winning as a team because one day (we will) look back and realize that this was a privileged,” Chelanga said.

With his top-10 finish, Edmonds became the second Flame in history to earn four All-Big South cross country honors. Edmonds was also named Men’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, making him the second runner in conference history, following Liberty’s Evan Falat, to earn the title twice.

Liberty’s cross country team will compete at the Cavalier Invitational at 4 p.m., Nov. 5  in Charlottesville, Va.

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