Sam Chelanga, shown here winning the NCAA 10K title, is the Big South Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive season. (Photo by Brian Mason, Wisconsin Athletic Communications)
Liberty redshirt junior Sam Chelanga has been named the 2009-10 Big South Conference Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year, earning the award for the second straight season. The annual conference honor was voted upon by the Big South's head track & field coaches. Chelanga, who shared the award with VMI's Donnie Cowart in 2008-09, is Liberty's sixth consecutive Big South Men's Track & Field Athlete of the Year. Current graduate assistant coach Josh McDougal captured the honor four straight times, between 2004-05 and 2007-08. UNC Asheville senior sprinter Natalie Pearson was voted Big South Women's Track & Field Athlete of the Year, with Liberty redshirt senior Jaime Watson earning a spot on the honorable mention list. The award considered an athlete's accomplishments in cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. Chelanga excelled in all three sports in 2009-10, winning two NCAA national titles and four total All-America certificates, making him a nine-time All-American for his career thus far. In cross country, Chelanga successfully defended his titles at the Big South and NCAA Southeast Regional Championships, before a show-stopping performance at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind. The native of Nairobi, Kenya was dominating, winning the race by 25 seconds and shattering the course record by 22 seconds. Chelanga broke the Liberty and Big South 10K records with his 28:41.3 clocking, as he became Liberty's second NCAA Division I national cross country champion in the last three seasons. At season's end, Chelanga was voted the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division I Men's National Cross Country Athlete of the Year. He was also honored as the USTFCCCA Southeast Regional Athlete of the Year and the Big South Men's Runner of the Year. Chelanga went on to win a trio of event titles at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships, finishing first in the mile and 3K finals and anchoring the Flames' distance medley relay quartet to victory. He then capped off his year with his second straight runner-up effort in the 5K at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Chelanga notched a season-best time of 13:37.01, but was narrowly outkicked by Northern Arizona senior David McNeill on the final lap. Chelanga's outdoor season consisted of only six races. However, whatever his year lacked in quantity, it more than made up for in quality. Chelanga opened his campaign with a 10K race at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational in Stanford, Calif., on May 1. He blazed a time of 27:08.39 that evening, cutting 20 seconds off of his own NCAA 10K record and ranking as the third-fastest time in the world for 2010. After becoming Liberty's first-ever back-to-back 5K champion at the IC4A meet, Chelanga punctuated his junior season in style at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. He won the men's 10K championship by a wide margin of 18 seconds, claiming the Flames' first NCAA Division I national title in men's track & field. Two days later, Chelanga lost another tight race with McNeill in the 5K final and finished with his second NCAA national runner-up showing of the year. Chelanga has been a regular member of The Bowerman men's watch list and was tabbed the USTFCCCA Division I Southeast Region Men's Track Athlete of the Year for the outdoor season.
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