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Big South XC Championships Slated for Friday

October 26, 2016  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty men's cross country team has recorded 13 consecutive top-two finishes at the Big South meet. (Photo by Jim Sullivan)

The Liberty men's cross country team has recorded 13 consecutive top-two finishes at the Big South meet. (Photo by Jim Sullivan)

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The Liberty men's and women's cross country teams are both expected to contend for conference titles at Friday morning's 2016 Big South Cross Country Championships. UNC Asheville will play host to the meet at Asheville Christian Academy in Swannanoa, N.C.

The women's 5K will begin at 10:30 a.m., as the preseason favorite Lady Flames chase their first Big South title since 2012 and ninth overall. The men's 8K will follow at 11:30. Liberty will aim for its 16th Big South crown but first since 2013.

If either Liberty team is victorious, it would mark Brant Tolsma's 100th conference championship as head coach of the Flames' men's and women's cross country and track & field programs.        

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Liberty fans will be able to keep up with the teams on Friday via live Twitter updates from the course. Fans are urged to follow the official Liberty Gameday Twitter account (@LUGameday) for updates throughout the day.

Additionally, Big Kahuna Timing will time the meet, and results will be posted on the company's website on Friday.

Weather Report
Friday's weather forecast calls for pleasant running conditions, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 60s during the morning hours.

Checking Out the Course
The race course features multiple loops around the Asheville Christian Academy campus and is mostly flat.

College meets have been contested at the course during each of the last five seasons. The top times recorded there have been 17:44.5 for the women's 5K by Alabama's Katelyn Greenleaf in 2012 and 25:05.0 for the men's 8K by Alabama's Robbie Farnham-Rose the same year.

Liberty has not competed at Asheville Christian Academy previously, but freshman Brooke Turner raced there several times during her time at Tuscola High School.

UNC Asheville previously hosted the Big South Cross Country Championships in 2007, with Liberty sweeping the men's and women's team titles. However, that meet took place at Jackson Park in Hendersonville, N.C.

One Away from 100
Brant Tolsma has led the Liberty cross country and track & field programs to an amazing amount of success since arriving on campus in 1986. The Flames' next conference championship will be the 100th of his coaching career at Liberty. Tolsma has coached the Flames and Lady Flames to 89 Big South Conference championships, seven Mason-Dixon Conference championships and three IC4A team titles during his first 30 years at Liberty.

Women's Team Preview
The Liberty women's cross country team is in search of its ninth Big South title and its first since 2012 on Friday. The preseason Big South favorite Lady Flames placed third in 2015, ending a string of 11 consecutive top-two finishes at this meet.

Five Lady Flames who finished inside the top 25 at the 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships are back in 2016, including sophomore Torree Scull (10th place), sophomore Anna Van Wyk (11th), redshirt junior Alyssa Karle (19th), senior Terrill Zentmeyer (20th) and senior Kat Bouton (25th). Senior Jessie Proehl, the ninth-place finisher at the 2013 Big South meet, is also back in action this fall.

The Lady Flames' greatest strength lies in their depth. Four runners have broken 19:00 for a 5K this season, including Bouton, Zentmeyer, sophomore Kammi Kurtz and freshman Kelly Shaffer. Meanwhile, five Lady Flames have clocked sub-23:00 6K times, including Kurtz, Van Wyk, Zentmeyer, senior Lindsey Bray and redshirt sophomore Lacie Robinson.

With longtime Big South rival Coastal Carolina out of the picture this season, Friday's race could shape up as a battle between Liberty and two-time defending champion High Point. The Lady Flames and Panthers have not met head-to-head thus far in 2016.

Other Team Challenger
High Point
– High Point is looking to become the first Big South women's cross country team to capture three consecutive conference titles since Coastal Carolina won five in a row between 2001 and 2005.

The Panthers are led by the talented senior duo of Cozette Collin and Natalia Ocasio, who placed sixth and seventh, respectively at the 2015 Big South meet.

High Point will rely upon underclassmen Keaton Case, Zoe Geis, Kylie Hennessey and Courtney Kerr to keep its championship streak alive on Friday.

The Panthers are under the direction of first-year head coach Remy Tamer, who was previously an assistant at Florida State.

High Point found the Asheville Christian Academy course to its liking on Oct. 1, as the Panthers won the Asheville Cross Country Challenge team title. High Point defeated conference foes Campbell, Winthrop, UNC Asheville, Radford, Presbyterian and Longwood in the process.

Team Notes
• Liberty has not won the Big South women's team title since 2012, but the Lady Flames have only finished a total of 37 points out of first place during the past three seasons combined.

• Coastal Carolina is the only Big South squad which has ever won three or more consecutive women's team championships. The Chanticleers won three straight between 1995-97 and five in a row spanning 2001-05.

• High Point has won its back-to-back Big South titles by narrow margins. The Panthers edged Liberty by six points (67-73) in 2014 and defeated Coastal Carolina by four tallies (47-51) in 2015.

• Four current conference members have claimed Big South women's team titles in past years, led by Liberty with eight championships. UNC Asheville has been victorious four times, while High Point and Radford own three crowns apiece.

Women's Individual Preview
The top five women's individual finishers from the 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships are no longer part of the conference, making Friday's race a bit more wide open.

Sophomore Anna Van Wyk has stepped forward as Liberty's No. 1 women's runner in 2016 and appears poised to improve upon her 11th-place showing at last year's Big South meet.

Van Wyk's most impressive performance to date was her 18th-place finish in the ISU Pre-National Invitational women's 6K white race, Oct. 15 in Terre Haute, Ind. The Minnesota native clocked a personal-best 6K time of 21:43.0, marking the fastest clocking by a Liberty sophomore since Jennifer Klugh's 20:55.5 in 2010.

Incidentally, Klugh is the only Lady Flames sophomore ever to win a Big South women's cross country individual title. She took top honors in the 2010 race in Blacksburg, Va., for her first of three straight Big South titles.

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Cozette Collin (High Point)
– Collin is the top returnee from the 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships, where she finished sixth. She has enjoyed a strong senior season, including a runner-up finish at the Sept. 24 Greensboro XC Invitational and a fourth-place showing at the following week's Asheville Cross Country Challenge.

Collin boasts an impressive finishing kick, as seen in the 2016 Big South Outdoor Track & Field Championships, where she won the women's 1,500 title and placed fourth in the 800.

Joan Maritim (Campbell) – Maritim placed just 15th at the 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships, but was the conference runner-up as a freshman in 2014.

After winning the Big South outdoor 5K title last season on the track, Maritim has carried that success into cross country this fall. She has won back-to-back races (Asheville Cross Country Challenge and VertCross Invitational), and her season has included top times of 17:40.8 (5K) and 20:41.5 (6K).

Natalia Ocasio (High Point) – Ocasio has improved during each of her appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships, going from 15th place in 2013 to ninth in 2014 and seventh in 2015.

The back-to-back Big South women's steeplechase champion has made steady progress in her senior cross country campaign. Most recently, she placed a team-best third at the Asheville Cross Country Challenge and then 24th of 207 at the VertCross Invitational.

Individual Notes
• Every time Liberty has won the Big South women's cross country team title, its No. 1 runner has placed in the top three.

• A Lady Flame has placed in the top three at the Big South meet every year since 2005.

• Only three different Lady Flames have been the Big South individual champion in meet history, including Jacy Christiansen (2014), Jennifer Klugh (2010-12) and Heather Sagan (2000-01).

• Campbell has never boasted the Big South women's cross country individual champion.

• High Point's last Big South women's cross country individual title came in 2008 (Zsanett Kis).

Men's Team Preview
The Liberty men's cross country team has finished in the top two at this meet for 13 consecutive seasons, including nine victories and four runner-up finishes. However, the Flames will attempt to return to the top spot for the first time since collecting their ninth consecutive Big South team title in 2013.

Liberty returns eight runners who placed in the top 26 at the 2015 Big South Cross Country Championships, including sophomore Azaria Kirwa (fifth place), redshirt senior Josh Showalter (ninth), junior Cameron Francis (11th), sophomore James Zentmeyer (14th), redshirt sophomore Louis Paone (19th), redshirt junior Luke Jelen (20th), junior Graham Hansel (22nd) and sophomore Jack Tidball (26th).

The trio of team captain Showalter, Francis and freshman Stanley Langat has stepped forward as a strong 1-2-3 punch for the Flames this fall. Langat has served as the team's No. 1 runner in each of the last two races, at the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic and the ISU Pre-National Invitational.

Like the Lady Flames, the Liberty men's squad has considerable depth this season. Seven Flames have dipped under 26 minutes for the 8K distance in 2016, including Francis, Hansel, Jelen, Langat, Showalter, Tidball and redshirt senior Danny de Nijs.

Liberty, which placed an impressive second at the VT Alumni Invite, has been ranked as highly as No. 12 in the Southeast Region this season.

The Flames have not gone head-to-head with top conference rivals Campbell or High Point this season.

Other Team Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
– Campbell won its first-ever Big South men's cross country team championship in 2015, and the Camels are favored to defend their title on Friday. Campbell, which has reached No. 5 in the Southeast Region this fall, enters the weekend listed ninth in the regional rankings.

Four Camels finished inside the top eight at last year's Big South meet, and all four return. They include defending champion Lawrence Kipkoech, 2015 runner-up Amon Terer, Jacob Kipserem and Meshack Kipruto. Added to the mix this season is a fifth Kenyan in Kelvin Kirui, who has clocked a 14:47 5K on the track.

Campbell has fared well in some high-level meets this fall, placing fourth at both the Adidas XC Challenge and Panorama Farms Invitational and 24th in the ISU Pre-National Invitational men's blue (seeded) race.

High Point – The High Point men's team has become a perennial contender at this meet. Prior to last season's third-place finish, the Panthers had placed inside the top two for eight straight years, headlined by a team title in 2014.

This year's version of the Panthers is led by senior Vinny Todaro (seventh place at the 2015 Big South meet), sophomore Alejandro Juan Torres (10th) and senior Chernet Sisay (13th). Freshman Sean McGinnis has also performed well this year and will be key to the Panthers' title chances in Friday's race.

Team Notes
Liberty has won a conference-high 15 Big South men's cross country championships in the Flames' 25 appearances at the conference meet. During that span, the next closest Big South men's squad is High Point, with four titles.

• Liberty has recorded 13 consecutive top two finishes at the Big South meet. In addition to the Flames' run of nine straight titles (2005-13), Liberty placed second in 2003, 2004, 2014 and 2015.

• The Flames have boasted the Big South individual champion 12 of the 15 times they have won the Big South team crown. The only exceptions came in 1994, when Bill Khan led Liberty with a runner-up finish, 2012, when David Ricksecker was the Flames' leader in second place and 2013, when Jeremie Bourget led the way in third place.

Men's Individual Preview
Liberty runners have won the men's individual title 17 times in the Flames' 25 appearances at the Big South Cross Country Championships, including a conference-record eight straight individual championships between 2004 and 2011. However, High Point runners finished first at three straight Big South meets (2012-14) before Campbell's Lawrence Kipkoech captured the 2015 title.

The Campbell duo of Kipkoech and Amon Terer will be tough to catch on Friday. However, Liberty's Cameron Francis, Stanley Langat and Josh Showalter will aim for lofty individual finishes.

Showalter (ninth place) and Francis (11th place) are returning All-Big South performers from 2015, while Showalter also earned all-conference distinction with his 11th-place finish in 2014. The redshirt senior will attempt to become the 13th Flame ever to win three or more All-Big South honors in men's cross country.

Meanwhile, Langat has been the Flames' No. 1 runner at each of the last two races (Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic and ISU Pre-National Invitational). He should contend for Liberty's first Big South Freshman of the Year honor since 2012 (Ngetich Kipchirchir).

Other Individual Challengers (Listed alphabetically)
Lawrence Kipkoech (Campbell)
– Kipkoech won the Big South men's cross country individual championship as a freshman, speeding to a meet-record 8K time of 23:39.69.

After qualifying for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships and the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships (5K & 10K) a year ago, Kipkoech is back at it in cross country this fall.

Kipkoech's strong sophomore season has been highlighted by his victory at the Adidas XC Challenge, a performance which earned USTFCCCA NCAA Division I National Athlete of the Week accolades.

Kipkoech is looking to become the first Big South men's cross country runner to successfully defend his title since Liberty's Sam Chelanga won three in a row (2008-10).

Amon Terer (Campbell) – If anyone can defeat Kipkoech, it is senior teammate Terer, who placed second a year ago.

Like Kipkoech, Terer qualified for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in both the 5K and 10K in 2016.

Terer is coming off of arguably the best cross country race of his career, a third-place showing in the men's 8K blue (seeded) race at the ISU Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 15. Terer clocked 23:58.5 for the undulating course to defeat some of the best runners in the nation, including teammate Kipkoech (17th place).

Individual Notes
• If a Liberty runner is victorious on Friday, he would become the eighth different Flame to capture a Big South individual men's cross country title, joining Bill Khan (1991-92), Josh Cox (1995-96), Stephen Githuka (1997-99), Bruce Kite (2000), Josh McDougal (2004-07), Sam Chelanga (2008-10) and Zac Edwards (2011).

• A Liberty runner has placed inside the top three at this meet for 12 of the last 13 years.

• Josh Showalter will attempt to become the 13th men's runner in program history to earn at least three All-Big South cross country awards during his career.

• Three Flames have been named Big South Men's Freshman of the Year all-time at this meet, including Chris McGregor (1994), Josh McDougal (2004) and Ngetich Kipchirchir (2012).

• During the last two seasons, Liberty, High Point and Campbell runners have claimed 23 of the 24 All-Big South honors at this meet, including all 12 in 2015.

• Nine of the 12 All-Big South performers from 2015 return in 2016.

• Only one Campbell Camel has won back-to-back Big South men's cross country titles, as Ken Frenette did so in 1986 and 1987.