Running down another title

Men’s and women’s cross country look to continue Big South dominance

CHAMPIONS — Redshirt sophomore captain Will Templeton leads the pack as the Flames race to their ninth straight championship. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

CHAMPIONS — Redshirt sophomore captain Will Templeton leads the pack as the Flames race to their ninth straight championship. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

For years it has been the goal of the men’s and women’s cross country teams to qualify for Nationals, and 2014 is no exception.

Past teams have come close to reaching this goal, but none have been successful thus far.

“I think we were all in agreement coming out of track season,” junior Jeremie Bourget said. “We want to make nationals. It has always been a team goal. Since my freshman year, we’ve had that as a team goal — to make it as the first team. And we’ve come close numerous times.”

Senior runner Jacy Christiansen, who was named to her second straight All-Big South team in 2013, echoed Bourget with the same lofty goal for the women’s team.

“My miracle goal for the girls team would be to go to nationals,” Christiansen said. “It may seem unrealistic to some people, but we have an awesome God, and we can do anything with him. … We are putting ourselves out there and the rest is up to God.”

In order for the Flames and Lady Flames to qualify for the national meet, they will need to finish first or second at the regional meet or be selected to fill one of 13 at-large spots.

Aside from working toward qualifying for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, both teams are pursuing another Big South Conference title.

The women’s team finished second last year behind perennial rival Costal Carolina. The Lady Flames took home the title in 2012.

By placing five runners in the top 13 of the 2013 Big South Conference Championship, the men’s team was able to bring home yet another conference title — its ninth in a row.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure (going for a 10th straight conference title),” Bourget said. “You don’t want to be the team that doesn’t continue that streak, especially coming from a team that has a lot of expectations coming into the year.”

According to the 2014 Big South Conference Preseason Men’s Cross Country Poll, the men’s team was selected yet again to finish first in the conference ahead of High Point. However, in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division I Southeast Region men’s cross country rankings, Liberty was ranked 10th behind the ninth-seeded Panthers.

In addition to returning Bourget, who placed third at the 2013 Big South Championship, Liberty will bring back redshirt senior Josh MacDonald and junior Sam Hibbs. MacDonald finished fourth at the Big South Championship, while Hibbs finished ninth.

Head Coach Brant Tolsma, the longest tenured and most highly decorated head coach in the history of Liberty Athletics, acknowledged the ever-growing target on his team’s back.

“The target on our back keeps growing with every victory, so people are more and more motivated to beat us,” Tolsma said. “We certainly don’t want to see
that happen.”

According to the 2014 Big South Conference Preseason Women’s Cross Country Poll, the Lady Flames were selected to finish second behind defending conference champions Coastal Carolina.

Christiansen, as well as sophomore Jessie Proehl and redshirt junior Meredith Mistretta, will lead the Lady Flames this year. Tolsma acknowledged how much the team will depend on Christiansen’s leadership on a team filled with 13 underclassmen runners.

“She is the one that has the most high-level experience,” Tolsma said. “She has it figured out at this point. She is definitely very committed. She is kind of the example to the other people. If we didn’t have her, we’d be in trouble.”

Proehl, who finished ninth at the 2013 Big South Championship, has seen the effort her team has exerted in hopes of returning to the top of the Big South.

“Our team is looking really, really strong this year,” Proehl said. “Everyone is working hard, so I’m hoping we can work together as a team to (win the Big South).”

In order for the men’s and women’s teams to make their individual runs at the Big South Championship and then qualify for nationals, both teams will be using the 12 weeks of practice and meets they have left before the Big South Championship to heal, train and improve.

Both teams began their regular season Aug. 29 at the University of Virginia Duals. Their next meet will be Sept. 13 at the Gardner-Webb XC Invitational.

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