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Pre-Nationals Next Up for Liberty XC

October 12, 2017  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Junior Kammi Kurtz has been a veteran leader for a young women's cross country team this fall.

Junior Kammi Kurtz has been a veteran leader for a young women's cross country team this fall.

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For the fifth consecutive season, the Liberty men's and women's cross country teams will race at Pre-Nationals. This year's event is set for Saturday at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., site of the 2017 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Liberty's day will begin with the men's red seeded 8K at 10 a.m. The Flames' No. 8 and 9 runners will compete in the men's black unseeded 8K at 11:30 a.m. Finally, the Lady Flames are entered in the women's black unseeded 6K at 12:15 p.m.

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live video streaming of Saturday's races will be available with a paid subscription to FloPRO.

Live results will also be provided throughout the day, courtesy of Record Timing.

Weather Report
Saturday's weather forecast is unseasonably warm for mid-October in Kentucky, calling for sunny skies and a high in the low 80s.

Checking Out the Course
E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park will play host to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for the third time on Nov. 18. Liberty has been represented at the NCAA meet both previous times it has been contested in Louisville, including 2012 (Jennifer Klugh) and 2015 (Ednah Kurgat).

The course has yielded countless fast times over the years, including Kurgat's school-record 6K clocking of 20:06.7 at the 2015 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.

Eight Liberty runners who will be competing on Saturday own current personal bests which were set at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park. They include Victoria Clinton (5K – 21:06.1), Gabriella Delbo (5K – 19:21.5), Erin Hansel (5K – 19:45.7), Graham Hansel (8K – 25:37.4), Kammi Kurtz (5K – 18:49.7), Torree Scull (6K – 22:05.3), Kelly Shaffer (5K – 18:58.3) and Brooke Turner (5K – 19:18.0).

Pre-Nationals Points
Liberty has enjoyed past success at Pre-Nationals, including five men's individual titles in a span of six years. Josh McDougal won the men's 8K white race for three consecutive years (2005-07), before Sam Chelanga took top honors in the men's 8K white race in both 2008 and 2010.

The last time Pre-Nationals took place in Louisville (2015), Liberty won the men's 8K black (unseeded) race team championship. Meanwhile, Lady Flame Ednah Kurgat finished as runner-up in the women's 6K black (unseeded) race.

On Saturday, the Liberty men's team will compete in the Pre-Nationals seeded race for the first time since 2014.

Scouting the Competition
The Liberty men's squad, currently ranked No. 10 in the Southeast Region, will race against eight nationally ranked opponents and 40 regionally ranked foes on Saturday.

No. 2 BYU, No. 5 Arkansas, No. 7 Colorado, No. 8 Oregon, No. 12 Virginia Tech, No. 19 Georgetown, No. 24 Ole Miss and No. 27 Utah State all appear in this week's USTFCCCA men's national rankings.

The Flames could have an opportunity to gain at-large points for selection to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Arkansas (South Central) and Georgetown (Mid-Atlantic) both top their respective regions' rankings. Meanwhile, BYU (Mountain), Ole Miss (South), Oregon (West), Texas (South Central) and Virginia Tech (Southeast) are all listed No. 2 in their regions.

Liberty will get to see how it stacks up in the Southeast Region, facing the region's No. 2 (Virginia Tech), No. 6 (Campbell), No. 7 (Charlotte) and No. 13 (Morehead State) squads.

Two weeks before hosting the Big South Cross Country Championships, Liberty will meet two-time defending men's champion Campbell head-to-head for the first time in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Lady Flames will also square off against numerous Southeast Region foes, including Campbell, Charlotte, Clemson, Coastal Carolina, Elon, Murray State, Northern Kentucky and Western Kentucky. Liberty will face Big South foe Campbell for the first time this season and renew its rivalry with long-time conference foe Coastal Carolina.

Prior to joining the Liberty coaching staff in January, Tim Sykes coached the Ohio women's distance runners in 2015 and 2016. The Bobcats will also be in Louisville on Saturday, meaning that the Lady Flames will race against some of Sykes' former athletes.

Heading Home
Liberty freshman Clara Lynch will get to race in her hometown for the first time in her college career on Saturday. A Christian Academy of Louisville graduate, Lynch raced at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park numerous times in high school. Her top 5K time at the course, 19:39.4, came at the 2016 Trinity/Valkyrie Invitational.

Last Time in Louisville
Liberty is racing in Louisville for the fourth consecutive year. The Flames' last race at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park was the Louisville Sports Commission Cross Country Classic on Oct. 1, 2016.

Only two of the Flames' top seven from that race (Graham Hansel and Azaria Kirwa) and three of the Lady Flames' top seven from that meet (Kammi Kurtz, Kelly Shaffer and Brooke Turner) will be competing on Saturday.

Interestingly, Kirwa was the Flames' No. 7 runner that day, clocking an 8K time of 26:10.35 for 179th place. Less than eight months later, his next visit to Kentucky went much better. Racing at the 2017 NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet in Lexington, Kirwa qualified for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the men's 5K.

Liberty Men's Outlook
The Liberty men's cross country team will look to continue its strong 2017 season. The Flames have recorded a dual meet victory over then No. 13 Virginia, captured the Liberty Big South Preview team title and posted their best-ever Paul Short Run finish (sixth place).

Junior Azaria Kirwa has led the way for the Flames. Most recently, the reigning Big South Men's Cross Country Runner of the Week placed second at the Paul Short Run with a new 8K personal-best time of 23:31.

Three other Flames also broke the 25-minute barrier and recorded personal bests in Bethlehem, Pa., including redshirt sophomore Nick Doan (24:16), redshirt senior Samuel Proctor (24:25) and redshirt sophomore James Zentmeyer (24:31).

Graham Hansel is set to make his senior season debut for the Flames on Saturday. Last year, he recorded career-best finishes at both the Big South (19th) and NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships (79th).

Liberty Women's Outlook
Freshman Noel Palmer led the Lady Flames' youth movement at the Paul Short Run, clocking an impressive time of 21:25 in her 6K debut to place fourth in the brown race and earn Big South Runner of the Week honors.

Five of Liberty's top seven finishers at the meet were freshmen and sophomores as the Lady Flames placed fourth of 24 squads in the women's 6K brown (unseeded) race.

Palmer was followed across the finish line by junior Kammi Kurtz (19th), sophomore Brooke Turner (28th), redshirt senior Alyssa Karle (41st), freshman Mary Kate McElroy (57th), freshman Lauren Hirneisen (76th) and sophomore Gabriella Delbo (87th).

Kurtz (22:08), Turner (22:20), Karle (22:33) and Delbo (23:23) all shattered their previous 6K bests in the process.

Next Up
For the second time in program history and the first time since 2008, Liberty will play host to the Big South Cross Country Championships on Oct. 28. The meet will be the second event contested at the Flames' new course, located adjacent to the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.

The men's 8K will begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the women's 5K at 11:30. The Lady Flames will look to defend their Big South title from 2016, while the Flames are aiming for their first Big South crown since 2013.