Seniors Dacia Bushman (left) and Hailey Neal led the Lady Flames to their third Big South Conference title in the last four years in 2009.
The Liberty women's cross country team will begin the 2010 season on Sept. 3, when the Lady Flames travel to Blacksburg, Va., for the Virginia Tech Cross Country Relays. The women's relay is slated to begin at 5 p.m. Below is a season preview of the defending Big South Conference champion Liberty squad. During the offseason, Liberty Cross Country/Track & Field Head Coach Brant Tolsma hired Derek Scott as a full-time assistant coach to work with the team's distance runners. It may take Scott a little time to get to know all 20 Lady Flames on the 2010 cross country roster, but the runners should already be quite familiar with one another.
Liberty did not graduate a single runner from the 2009 women's cross country squad, which won the Big South Conference title by 19 points. The Lady Flames had not enjoyed such a large margin of victory at the conference meet since 1991, Liberty's first year in the Big South Conference.
As a result, expectations are high entering the 2010 campaign. "We are not so young of a team this year," explained Tolsma. We should be an improved team and hope to repeat in the Big South Conference, although we expect to be challenged by Coastal Carolina, High Point and VMI. I would also like to see us improve to a top-10 finish at the regional meet, after a disappointing 18th-place showing last year.
"Long range, I would like to send our women's team to the national meet," Tolsma continued. "That's probably not realistic right away, but I believe we can take a step in the right direction this season." The Lady Flames will get a chance to see how they measure up against numerous nationally-ranked teams at both the Brooks Paul Short Run and Pre-Nationals, during the month of October.
Senior Dacia Bushman and redshirt sophomore Jennifer Klugh are expected to give the Lady Flames a strong 1-2 punch. They placed second and third, respectively, at the Big South Cross Country Championship last season. Both of them will try to become Liberty's first Big South individual cross country titlist since Heather Sagan in 2001.
Bushman, a consistent performer throughout her time at Liberty, was the Lady Flames' top finisher in all five of her races a season ago. Meanwhile, Klugh comes off a breakthrough year. She earned All-Big South accolades in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track last season and improved from a 5:02 high school personal best in the 1,600 to a 4:27.82 1,500-meter clocking.
Two other seniors, Hailey Neal and Rod'Esther Castor, hope to follow closely behind Bushman and Klugh in 2010. Both regulars in the Lady Flames' top five a season ago, the pair crossed the line side by side at the 2009 Big South Cross Country Championship.
Neal, the 12th-place finisher in the race, was a solid contributor during her first season at Liberty, after transferring from Florida. On the track, she was the Big South steeplechase champion and lowered her time to 10:58.31. Castor also recorded a personal best during the 2010 outdoor track campaign, placing eighth in the 800 at the Big South meet after posting a 2:18.22 during the preliminary round.
Junior Denise Troyer returns to the Lady Flames after sitting out the 2010 track & field season due to an extended missions trip to Brazil. A steady performer, she has run among Liberty's top five on numerous occasions during her career. Interestingly, Troyer has been the Lady Flames' No. 5 finisher at the 2008 and 2009 Big South Cross Country Championships, crossing the line in 17th place on both occasions.
Khristina Kanagy and Betel Yosef hope to take a step forward as sophomores, after promising freshman seasons. Yosef was 23rd and Kanagy came in 25th at last year's Big South meet. Yosef went on to clock a 4:50.51 in the Big South 1,500-meter final on the track, claiming a surprising sixth-place finish. Meanwhile, Kanagy notched a 5K personal-best time of 18:23.58 indoors.
Redshirt juniors Alicia Guridy (18:42.78) and Amy Passauer (19:31.03) and redshirt sophomore Kristen Story (19:35.59) each recorded 5K personal bests on the track in 2010, and all three hope to post similar breakthroughs this fall in cross country.
Several incoming freshmen could also fight for a spot in the Lady Flames' top five this season, including Katie Russo, Jessica Gass and Meg Bowles.
Russo, a native of Fort Myers, Fla., clocked a 5:02 for 1,600 meters as a high school senior, as well as an 18:13 5K during the cross country season. Gass was a standout performer at Leonardtown High School in Leonardtown, Md., setting school records in the 1,600 (5:09) and 3,200 (11:18). Meanwhile, Bowles, the younger sister of sophomore teammate Taylor Bowles, helped Noblesville High School finish fifth at the Indiana State Cross Country Championship as a senior.
With so many familiar faces on the 2010 Liberty women's cross country roster, the Lady Flames hope to produce some familiarly successful results, including their fourth Big South championship in the last five years.
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