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Liberty XC Ready for 1st ASUN Championships Appearance

October 24, 2018  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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The Liberty men's and women's squads will make their inaugural appearance at the ASUN Cross Country Championships, Friday at Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, N.Y. The Flames and Lady Flames will be the first Liberty teams ever to compete for ASUN Conference titles in any sport.

The 40th ASUN Cross Country Championships will begin with the women's 5K at 11 a.m. and conclude with the men's 8K at noon.

How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live results are expected to be available, courtesy of Half-Mile Timing.

Periodic updates will also be posted to the Liberty Track & Field/Cross Country (@Liberty_XCTF) Twitter account.

Weather Report
Friday's weather in the Bronx is expected to be mostly cloudy with the temperature in the mid 40s.

Checking Out the Course
Liberty will be visiting Van Cortlandt Park for the second time this season, after taking part in the Iona College Meet of Champions on Sept. 14.

Azaria Kirwa won the men's 8K that day, leading the Flames to a third-place team finish. Meanwhile, Noel Palmer's sixth-place showing in the women's 5K helped the Lady Flames come in sixth as a team.

Historic Van Cortlandt Park, one of the most famous cross country venues on the East Coast, is not a particularly fast course. Kirwa (25:01.0) and Palmer (17:49.0) each posted their slowest times of the 2018 season at the Iona College Meet of Champions.

Looking back, Liberty great Sam Chelanga made his collegiate debut at Van Cortlandt Park, winning the Fordham Dual men's individual title in an 8K time of 25:13.63 as a Fairleigh Dickinson freshman on Sept. 9, 2006.

Friday's race will mark the farthest north the ASUN Cross Country Championships have ever been contested, as Liberty Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Brant Tolsma's alma mater (NJIT) is hosting the event.

First Out of the Gate
The men's and women's cross country teams will be the first Liberty squads ever to compete in ASUN Championship events, edging out women's soccer. The Liberty women's soccer team will play its first ASUN Championship match Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern in Nashville, Tenn.

Liberty's cross country teams captured the school's first four Big South championships, as the Flames and Lady Flames swept the men's and women's team titles in both 1991 and 1992.

Unfamiliar Foes
Liberty will be meeting most of its ASUN Conference foes for the first time this season on Friday.

Kennesaw State is the only conference member the Flames have faced thus far in 2018. On Sept. 28, the Liberty men's squad won the Queen City Invite title with Kennesaw State placing eighth. Meanwhile, the Lady Flames were the Queen City Invite runners-up and Kennesaw State took seventh place in the race.

Women's Team Preview
Sophomore Noel Palmer has established herself as a strong No. 1 runner for the Liberty women's cross country team in 2018, while freshman Calli Parlier has quickly claimed the No. 2 spot.

In order for the Lady Flames to win their second conference title in three years on Friday, they will need other runners to step up.

Senior Kammi Kurtz placed eighth at the 2016 Big South meet and sixth a year ago. Meanwhile, redshirt junior Anna Van Wyk came in 11th at the 2015 Big South Championship and was the 2016 conference runner-up. However, both have been limited during the early stages of the 2018 campaign.

First-year team members Emma Bower, Kyley Sorg and Greer Wilson have been regulars inside the Lady Flames' top five this fall.

Lipscomb had won six straight ASUN women's cross country team titles, before the Bisons lost by one point to North Florida a year ago. Lipscomb appears well positioned to reclaim its crown on Friday, as the Bisons are currently ranked No. 7 in the South Region.

Liberty has not faced Lipscomb head-to-head this season, but both teams ran races at Van Cortlandt Park in September. Lipscomb's top five runners all crossed the 5K finish line in under 19 minutes at the Sept. 8 Fordham Fiasco. Meanwhile, the only Lady Flames to clock sub-19:00 times at the Iona College Meet of Champions one week later were Palmer and Parlier.

Kennesaw State was the last first-year ASUN member to win the women's team title, doing so in 2005.

Women's Individual Preview
Noel Palmer has enjoyed quite the sophomore season to date for the Lady Flames. She won the Queen City Invite women's 5K title in a school-record time of 17:09 and has earned three ASUN Runner of the Week notations.

Now, Palmer will attempt to become just the fourth different Lady Flame ever to win an NCAA Division I women's cross country individual conference title and the first since Jacy Christiansen took home the Big South crown in 2014. No sophomore has won the ASUN women's cross country individual crown since UCF's Sonja Shedden in 1999, the year Palmer was born.

Palmer's top competition could come in the form of junior Courtney Brenner, the ASUN Preseason Women's Runner of the Year. She won the Fordham Fiasco 5K at Van Cortlandt Park in 17:48.99. Interestingly, Palmer covered the course in almost exactly the same time (17:49.0) one week later.

Palmer and Brenner have not raced head to head this fall, but Palmer did edge Brenner by three seconds in the women's 10K at the 2018 NCAA Division I East Preliminary Round meet on the track in May.

Jacksonville senior Nora McUmber is the top returnee (fifth place) from the 2017 ASUN meet, and she also placed third the previous year.

McUmber lost to FGCU senior Carley Lutzow, a two-time ASUN Runner of the Week, her last time out.

Coming off a win at the Berry Invitational, Kennesaw State's Brenda Ayuk could battle Liberty's Calli Parlier for top freshman honors. Ayuk bested Parlier by 10 seconds when they squared off at the Queen City Invite on Sept. 28.

Men's Team Preview
Attempting to win its first conference title since 2013, the Liberty men's team has run well thus far in 2018. The Flames posted first-place finishes at the Virginia Tech Invitational and Queen City Invite. Liberty is currently ranked No. 11 in the Southeast Region after matching a program-best No. 4 regional ranking earlier this fall.

The Flames have been paced by the front running of senior Azaria Kirwa, redshirt freshman Felix Kandie and sophomore Augostine Lisoreng this fall. Like their female counterparts, their chances at victory on Friday will largely be based upon the performance of their No. 4 and No. 5 runners.

Liberty returns four of the top 13 finishers from last year's Big South meet, including runner-up Kirwa, seventh-place James Zentmeyer, 11th-place Lisoreng and 13th-place Benjamin Klemmeck.

The Flames will face two other regionally ranked teams on Friday, as Lipscomb and North Florida are ranked No. 11 and 12, respectively, in the South Region. The Bisons and Ospreys have alternated ASUN titles in recent years, with Lipscomb prevailing in 2015 and 2017 and North Florida taking home the trophy in 2016.

North Florida took home an impressive fifth-place finish at this year's Paul Short Run, while Lipscomb placed fifth in a loaded field at the Commodore Classic.

No first-year conference member has won the ASUN men's team title since UTSA in 1986.

Men's Individual Preview
Liberty's Azaria Kirwa has excelled during his senior season, winning his first three races of the year (Virginia Tech Invitational, Iona College Meet of Champions and Queen City Invite). The All-American is a four-time ASUN Runner of the Week and was tabbed USTFCCCA Division I National Athlete of the Week on Sept. 17.

Kirwa never won a Big South individual event title, either in cross country or on the track. In fact, the Flames have not boasted the conference's first-place men's cross country finisher since 2011 (Zac Edwards – Big South).

Kirwa's top competition figures to come from North Florida redshirt senior Nick Morken, the 2016 ASUN men's cross country champion and 2017 runner-up.

Lipscomb's Silas Griffith, the 2017 ASUN Freshman of the Year, has been serving as the Bisons' top runner this season. Lucas Kiprotich of FGCU has posted a trio of top-three finishes this season, while Hillary Melly has been busy rewriting the Stetson record book.

Up Next
A small group of Flames and Lady Flames will take part in the Hokie Open, Nov. 2 in Blacksburg, Va. The low-key meet will consist of a men's 6K at 4:30 p.m. and a women's 4K at 5:10 p.m. Both races will take place at Virginia Tech's Buford Meredith Cross Country Course.