The Lady Flames celebrate their fifth Big South women's cross country title in the last seven seasons.
Liberty earned a considerable amount of hardware at Saturday morning's Big South Men's and Women's Cross Country Championships, contested at the Winthrop Coliseum and Farm in Rock Hill, S.C. The Flames and Lady Flames swept the Big South team titles, while redshirt senior Jennifer Klugh won her third consecutive Big South women's individual crown. Klugh, whose come-from-behind victory in the women's 5K produced a school-record time of 17:18.72, was one of four Lady Flames to finish in the top nine. As a result, Liberty claimed its fifth Big South women's team championship in the last seven years with a score of 40 points. Coastal Carolina edged High Point for second place, 72-73. On the men's side, David Ricksecker's runner-up finish paced seven Flames among the top 14 finishers. Liberty's unprecedented eighth consecutive Big South men's cross country team crown was won with 28 points. High Point finished second for the sixth year in a row, totaling 49 points. It was the Flames' largest margin of victory since 2008. Individually, Klugh was named Big South Women's Runner of the Year for the third straight season and represented the Lady Flames on the Big South All-Academic Team. Ngetich Kipchirchir finished fourth in the men's race to become Liberty's first Big South Men's Freshman of the Year since Josh McDougal in 2004. Caleb Edmonds, who finished one place in front of Kipchirchir, made the men's Big South All-Academic Team. Brant Tolsma swept the Big South Men's and Women's Coach of the Year honors, giving him 52 such awards for his career, including cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. It was Tolsma's eighth Big South Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year nod in a row.
Women's 5K Championship Recap Winthrop junior Jeanne Stroud made Klugh work for her individual championship, clocking 5:25 for the opening mile and building a lead of almost 20 seconds on Klugh during the early stages. However, Klugh methodically reeled in the hometown favorite during the race's final mile and ended up winning by more than five seconds. Klugh's winning time of 17:18.72 cut nearly 10 full seconds off of her own school record of 17:28.3 from the 2011 Charlotte Invitational. It was also the fastest women's winning time at this meet since 2007. Klugh is the first Lady Flame ever to win three straight Big South women's cross country individual titles. No Big South runner had accomplished the feat since Coastal Carolina's Jolene Williams in 1997, 1998 and 1999. Additionally, the Buckeye State native is the first Liberty women's runner to make the All-Big South cross country team four times. Three of Klugh's teammates joined her on the all-conference team, as Khristina Kanagy placed seventh in 18:09.23, Jacy Christiansen was eighth in a personal-best 18:10.39 and Betel Yosef was ninth in a personal-best 18:11.90. Kanagy made her second consecutive All-Big South team with an inspiring performance. It was the senior's first race since the tragic death of her father, Jim Kanagy, two and a half weeks ago. Meredith Mistretta continued her breakthrough sophomore season, placing 15th in a time of 18:37.44. It was a marked improvement from Mistretta's 36th-place effort as a freshman. Courtney Russo was the second-fastest women's freshman on the day, crossing the line 18th in 18:45.39. Junior Jessica Gass made a successful Big South Cross Country Championship debut. She was Liberty's No. 7 finisher and No. 23 overall, with an 18:52.60 effort.
Men's 8K Championship Recap Liberty's streak of eight consecutive Big South men's cross country individual championships came to an end on Saturday, as High Point senior Jacob Smith won with an 8K time of 24:35.79. However, three Flames followed within the next nine seconds, putting Liberty well on its way to another team championship. Ricksecker's runner-up finish, in a time of 24:39.62, made the redshirt senior a three-time All-Big South honoree. He is the 12th men's runner in program history to earn a trio of All-Big South awards in cross country. Ricksecker joins older sister Rebekah Ricksecker as a three-time All-Big South performer in cross country. Edmonds' second straight All-Big South effort came as a result of his third-place finish. The junior's official time was 24:40.29. Kipchirchir closed out the run of three consecutive Flames, placing fourth in 24:44.64. Kipchirchir started another Liberty race trend, as the Flames' next three finishers were also freshmen. In total, the top four freshmen in the men's race were wearing Liberty singlets. Rookie Will Templeton came in seventh overall in 25:10.14. Classmate Jeremie Bourget ran 25:34.23 for 12th place, while Sam Hibbs' 25:37.73 clocking netted 13th place. Zach Barker closed out Liberty's top seven, as the junior was another of the Flames' runners who made a major improvement from the 2011 Big South meet. He was 14th with a time of 25:38.83, one year after placing 29th. Liberty's overall team depth was on full display on Saturday, as the Flames had seven men's runners finish before any other team had four runners in. Additionally, Liberty's No. 8 runner, Nate Jones, finished an impressive 21st in 26:05.04.
The Flames and Lady Flames will now prepare for the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships, slated for Nov. 9 at McAlpine Creek Park in Charlotte, N.C. The meet, which will determine the qualifiers for the 2012 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, will begin with the women's 6K race at noon. The men's 10K will follow at 1:15 p.m.
Final Women's Team Scores 1) Liberty – 40 2) Coastal Carolina – 72 3) High Point – 73 4) Winthrop – 136 5) UNC Asheville – 140 6) VMI – 142 7) Campbell – 148 8T) Charleston Southern – 239 8T) Radford – 239 10) Gardner-Webb – 264 11) Longwood – 300 12) Presbyterian College – 389
Final Men's Team Scores 1) Liberty – 28 2) High Point – 49 3) Campbell – 92 4) VMI – 100 5) UNC Asheville – 158 6) Coastal Carolina – 178 7) Winthrop – 185 8) Radford – 192 9) Longwood – 214 10) Gardner-Webb – 320 11) Charleston Southern – 347 12) Presbyterian College – 365
Women's Runner of the Year Jennifer Klugh, Liberty
Men's Runner of the Year Jacob Smith, High Point
Women's Freshman of the Year Letitia Saayman, Coastal Carolina
Men's Freshman of the Year Ngetich Kipchirchir, Liberty
Women's Coach of the Year Brant Tolsma, Liberty
Men's Coach of the Year Brant Tolsma, Liberty
Women's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Jeanne Stroud, Winthrop
Men's Scholar-Athlete of the Year Cabell Willis, VMI
Women's All-Academic Team Jeanne Stroud, Winthrop Jenna Moye, VMI Emma Bussard, UNC Ashevillle Emily Marchini, Coastal Carolina Kelsey Paine, High Point Jennifer Klugh, Liberty Heidi Dean, Charleston Southern Hannah Scheren, Radford Rebecca Denny, Longwood Elisabeth Sawyer, Garder-Webb Jennifer Lockman, Presbyterian College Ashley Matthews, Campbell
Men's All-Academic Team Cabell Willis, VMI Caleb Edmonds, Liberty Kyle Kling, Coastal Carolina John Yankello, High Point Mike McClay, Gardner-Webb Elliot Pahel-Short, UNC Asheville Brian Trail, Presbyterian College Gabe Holguin, Winthrop Russell Reed, Longwood Evan Darm, Campbell Chris Weeks, Radford