The Liberty men's cross country team christened its new home course in style at Saturday morning's Liberty Big South Preview. Junior Azaria Kirwa won the men's 8K, leading a pack of seven Flames among the first eight finishers as Liberty rolled to victory. On the women's side, the Lady Flames placed second to High Point, paced by freshman Noel Palmer's runner-up finish in the 5K.
Liberty tallied just 19 points in the men's race, putting the regionally-ranked Flames 52 points ahead of second-place UNC Asheville (71 points) atop the five-team field. The inaugural race at the new Liberty Cross Country Course marked the Flames' first invitational victory since Oct. 17, 2015. That day, Liberty captured the men's black race team title at Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ky.
The Lady Flames had three of the top eight women's finishers in Liberty's first home meet since the 2008 Big South Cross Country Championships. However, High Point came out on top of the host Lady Flames by 24 points, 19-43.
Men's 8K Race Recap The Flames ran much of the hilly 8K course together as a group before Kirwa broke away during the final kilometer. In the end, Kirwa posted an 8K course-record time of 26:43.9 to hold off High Point's Alejandro Juan Torres by 2.4 seconds.
Kirwa claimed not only the first cross country victory of his collegiate career but also the first by a Liberty men's runner since Caleb Edmonds won the VMI Invitational on Sept. 21, 2013.
Following Torres, the next nine runners to cross the finish line were Flames, including ninth-place Graham Hansel, who competed unattached on Saturday.
Redshirt senior Samuel Proctor continued the strong start to his Liberty career in third place (26:50.8), while redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer was fourth (26:56.0).
Freshmen Augostine Lisoreng (27:04.1) and Felix Kandie (27:14.1), both making their collegiate debuts, placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Their performances closed out Liberty's scorers and sealed the Flames' victory.
Redshirt sophomore Nick Doan (seventh, 27:21.8) and redshirt junior Louis Paone (eighth, 27:36.7) rounded out Liberty's top seven.
Following Hansel (27:42.3), Liberty's final two competitors were redshirt freshman Benjamin Klemmeck (10th, 27:53.1) and redshirt senior Colin Schultz (11th, 27:53.5).
In total, 43 men completed the 8K course on a warm, sunny morning.
Women's 5K Race Recap The top four finishers in the women's 5K were freshmen, including Liberty's Palmer. In just her second collegiate race, Palmer dueled with classmates Famke Heinst and Julia Hellman of High Point. Heinst pulled out the victory in 18:41.2 with Palmer finishing a close second in 18:46.7.
Sophomore Brooke Turner (19:42.9) and junior Kammi Kurtz (19:44.9) took the seventh and eighth positions.
Redshirt senior Alyssa Karle (19:53.0) came in 11th, while freshman Mary Kate McElroy (20:07.3) served as the Lady Flames' No. 5 runner in 16th place overall.
Freshman Lauren Hirneisen (20:28.2) and sophomore Gabriella Delbo (20:40.0) finished 19th and 20th, respectively, among the field of 48 women's finishers.
Up Next Liberty will face its stiffest competition of the young season on Sept. 29, as the Flames and Lady Flames travel to Bethlehem, Pa., for the 44th Paul Short Run. The first race of the day will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Goodman Campus Cross Country Course.
Liberty will be participating in the Paul Short Run for the first time since 2010, when Sam Chelanga won his senior season debut race and Jennifer Klugh broke the Liberty women's 6K record.