The Liberty men's cross country team finished as the ASUN Conference runner-up in 2019. (Photo by Brad Young)
Note: The Liberty men's cross country team enjoyed a successful second season of ASUN Conference competition in 2019, placing second at the conference meet. The ASUN Conference office recently penned this season recap article. With the 41st year of ASUN Conference Men's Cross Country in the books, we take a look back a the highlights and accomplishments from the nine league squads in the 2019-20 season. Liberty's Felix Kandie captured Runner of the Week honors four times during the season but was edged out by Lipscomb's Brent Leber for Runner of the Year at the 2019 ASUN Championship. The Bisons defeated the Flames by one point to earn their fifth title as this year's event was hosted by FGCU at Buckingham Complex in Fort Myers, Fla.
Lipscomb took home its second championship in three years as by the third-smallest margin of victory in ASUN history. The Bisons also secured awards for Coach of the Year (Nick Polk) and Freshman of the Year (Ronald Kigen). Leber crossed the finish line only four seconds before Kandie and the pair were followed closely by North Florida's Nathan Jubran who was tabbed as Preseason Runner of the Year. Jubran and North Alabama's Peyton Ewoldt were each named Runner of the Week twice during the season.
Five squads were victorious at meets during the season with Liberty and Stetson both winning their season-opening contests at the Liberty Challenge and FAU Invitational, respectively. North Florida started 2019 off by defeating Florida in a dual meet. The Flames also finished in first place at the FGCU Invitational while the Lions won the UNA Invitational as the team hosted its first home meet since 2007. NJIT won the Highlander XC Challenge that the team hosted as a part of its homecoming weekend. Jacksonville had its best showing of the season at the UCF Invitational led by senior Alex Turnock who placed eighth in the field of 30 runners while Kennesaw State ended the regular season 11th in a 21-team field at the Blazer Classic.
At this year's championship, the Bisons led the conference with five All-Conference selections in Leber, Kigen, Zach Israel, Scott McKenzie and Patrick Smith. Liberty was represented by Kandie, Ryan Drew, Caleb Olson and Andrew Stanley. Jubran, Rob Leverone and Jared Vazquez earned honors for the Ospreys. FGCU, who hosted the championship for the second time in program history, rounded out the All-Conference teams with Lucas Kiprotich and Austin Redondo. Kiprotich earned the Eagles' fastest individual championship finish. As a team, North Alabama had its best finish in an ASUN Championship at seventh while the Hatters tallied their best team score with 137 points and fastest individual time from Hillary Melly.
At the NCAA South Regional Championship, Leber finished seventh and became the first-ever runner from Lipscomb to qualify for the NCAA Division I National Championship. Jubran's 14th-place finish helped UNF to the best team score at regionals in school history (220). Stetson's Tristen Montalvo set the program's record for an individual finish (31:35.4) as the Hatters also had the program's best score and finish at regionals (431, 19th). Kandie led Liberty to an 11th-place finish at the Southeast Regional while the Highlanders achieved their best team score (553) at the Mid-Atlantic Regional.
Leber, who was also named Scholar-Athlete of the Year, finished 161st out of 252 runners at the NCAA Division I National Championship in Terre Haute, Ind. He was the fourth ASUN Men's Cross Country runner to represent the conference in the championship race in the last 10 years. His time of 32:28.2 ranks seventh in top ASUN 10K finishes since 1999. Lipscomb and North Florida finished the season ranked sixth and seventh, respectively, in the final USTFCCCA South Region Poll. Three other teams were also ranked: Liberty (11th; Southeast Region), Stetson (19th; South Region), NJIT (22nd; Mid-Atlantic Region). FGCU - The team's top finish of the regular season came from Lucas Kiprotich who placed fourth at the Mountain Dew Invitational 8K. - Hosted the 2019 ASUN Championship for the second time in program history at the Buckingham Complex in Fort Myers. - Kiprotich and Austin Redondo earned All-Conference Second Team selections after finishing eighth and 13th, respectively. Jacksonville - Senior Alex Turnock was Jacksonville's top runner throughout 2019 as he was the squad's top finisher in all meets this season. - With this year's selection, Turnock became only the third person to be named to the ASUN All-Academic Team three times. - The Dolphins were represented in the NCAA South Regional Championship by Turnock who set a personal best 10K time at 34:56.6. Kennesaw State - The Owls best showing of the regular season came in their last race at the Blazer Classic in Birmingham, Ala.; KSU finished 11th out of 21 teams. - Mekhi Williams posted the team's best 8K time of the season at 24:55.43. He also posted the squad's best time in the ASUN Championship (26:03.21). - Williams, along with Koi Williams and Austin Muse, posted career-best 10K times at the NCAA South Regionals in Tallahassee, Fla. Liberty - Felix Kandie earned Liberty back-to-back seasons with four Runner of the Week awards; Azaria Kirwa won four times in 2018. - The Flames opened their season with wins at the Liberty Challenge in Lynchburg and the FGCU Invitational in Fort Myers. - Liberty finished second in the ASUN Championship for the second-straight year; Kandie, Ryan Drew and Caleb Olson were All-Conference First Team selections. Lipscomb - Lipscomb won its second ASUN Championship in the past three seasons and fifth overall as the Bisons claimed the 2019 title by one point; the third-smallest margin of victory in ASUN history. - Runner of the Year Brent Leber recorded the fourth-best finish in a championship 8K with a winning time of 24:17.54. - Leber's finish of 30:26.4 in the NCAA Regional 10K ranks fourth in league history; he earned Lipscomb's first appearance in the National Championship NJIT - NJIT's best finish of the season came on its homecoming weekend when the squad hosted the Highlander XC Challenge and finished in first place. - At the 2019 Championship, NJIT finished in sixth place which is tied for the best finish by the program and marks the fourth time it has been achieved. - The Highlanders recorded their best regional team score earning 553 points at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship. North Alabama - North Alabama hosted its first home meet since 2007 with the UNA Invitational on Sept. 7. The Lions were victorious in a field of 10 teams. - Peyton Ewoldt finished fourth and Brandon Lee finished fifth on the way to earning the first Runner and Freshman of the Week honors of their careers. - Ewoldt and Lee won their respective honors twice during the season and lead the Lions to the program's best finish in the ASUN Championship. North Florida - The Ospreys began their season by winning a dual meet with Florida, followed up by a second-place at the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville. - Nathan Jubran was the top collegiate runner of both meets and finished second at the FSU Invitational; he earned Runner of the Week twice this season. - At the ASUN Championship, Jubran placed third for the second-straight season to earn First Team All-Conference; he also finished 14th in the NCAA South Regional Championship 10K. Stetson - Stetson opened the year with a team victory at the FAU Invitational; Joey Tolman finished second to earn the ASUN's first-ever Freshman of the Week honor. - Hillary Melly recorded the Hatters' fastest time at this year's ASUN Championship; during the regular season, the top time belonged to Tristen Montalvo. - At the NCAA South Regional Championship, Montalvo recorded the program's best individual regional finish with a time of 31:35.4 in the 10K race.
ABOUT THE ASUN The ASUN Conference is an NCAA Division I league with nine member institutions committed to Building Winners for Life. The ASUN meets the challenge of maintaining the highest standards in academic and athletic achievement through a true balance between student and athlete. Six ASUN schools reside in Nielsen Top 50 national media markets, and all nine are in top 80 markets. The ASUN includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Liberty University, Lipscomb University, New Jersey Institute of Technology, University of North Alabama, University of North Florida and Stetson University. Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., joins the ASUN for the 2020-21 academic year.