Liberty Set for 1st-Ever Spring ASUN Cross Country Championships
For the second consecutive weekend, the Liberty distance runners will be competing for conference titles. This Friday, the Flames are bound for Macon, Ga., and the first-ever spring edition of the ASUN Cross Country Championships.
The women’s 5K will begin at 11 a.m. with the men’s 8K to follow at noon. Both races will take place at the Georgia Premier Cross Country Course.
How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Spectators are permitted to attend Friday’s races, but must wear masks and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Admission and parking are free of charge.
A live video stream of Friday’s races will be available on the ASUN Conference Facebook page.
Live results, featuring in-progress splits and team scores, will be provided by Half-Mile Timing.
Friday’s weather in Macon should be pretty pleasant, with partly cloudy skies and a high in the low 60s with light wind.
Checking Out the Course
This will be Liberty’s first time racing at the Georgia Premier Cross Country Course. The course also hosted the Southern Conference Cross Country Championships in November.
What’s at Stake?
Both the Liberty men’s and women’s teams are in search of their first-ever ASUN cross country team title, in their third appearance at this event.
In the absence of regional championships this season, the conference meet is being used as the primary tool to evaluate teams for potential selection to this spring’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The top individual finisher at each conference meet who is not part of a national-qualifying team is guaranteed selection to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The full fields of NCAA team and individual competitors will be announced Sunday at 1 p.m. on NCAA.com.
The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships will take place on March 15 in Stillwater, Okla. The women’s 6K will begin at 12:50 p.m. Eastern with the men’s 10K following at 1:40 p.m. Eastern. Both races will air live on ESPNU.
Women’s Team Preview
Lipscomb enters Friday’s women’s race as the two-time defending ASUN champion, and the Bisons have won eight of the last nine ASUN women’s team crowns.
Ranked No. 11 in the South Region, the Bisons only return two of their top five finishers from the 2019 ASUN meet (fourth-place Grace Lahey and seventh-place Lauren Flynt). However, they have 2018 ASUN individual champion Courtney Brenner back and have added talented freshman Lydia Miller, who has served as the team’s No. 1 runner at each of Lipscomb’s two races this semester.
Liberty, which finished second to Lipscomb in 2018 and 2019, seems well-positioned to make a strong run at its first ASUN Conference title on Friday. The Lady Flames have not won a conference cross country championship since taking the Big South title in 2016.
The Lady Flames have earned their best-ever Southeast Region ranking (No. 5) after posting a dominant victory at the CSU Buccaneer Invitational and an impressive seventh-place showing at the FSU Winter Cross Country Classic.
Liberty returns five All-ASUN finishers from the 2019 ASUN meet, including individual champion Adelyn Ackley, runner-up Calli Doan, 10th-place Emma Bower, 12th-place Priscillah Kiplagat and 14th-place Brittany Carnathan.
Noel Palmer is back for the Lady Flames after placing second at the 2018 ASUN Cross Country Championships. Liberty’s roster also features talented sisters Anna and Marie Hostetler, along with Grace Dwyer, who was a three-time All-SoCon cross country runner at Furman.
The Liberty distance crew will look to build upon a strong showing at last weekend’s ASUN Indoor Track & Field Championships.
Doan won the mile (personal-best 4:45.84) and anchored the distance medley relay team to a come-from-behind victory with a 4:47.06 anchor split.
Ackley won the 5K in a meet-record and personal-best 16:25.24, with Kiplagat (personal-best 17:05.30), Palmer (17:11.14) and Bower (season-best 17:12.14) finishing in third, fifth and sixth, respectively.
Kiplagat (personal-best 9:40.42) and Marie Hostetler (personal-best 9:41.80) also placed 2-3 in the 3K.
Dwyer is out of indoor track eligibility but clocked a personal-best 5K time of 16:53.74 indoors on Feb. 12. That same weekend, Anna Hostetler narrowly missed the program record with a 9:33.61 3K effort.
Women’s Individual Preview
Liberty’s Adelyn Ackley and Calli Doan swept the top two women’s individual spots at the 2019 ASUN Cross Country Championships, and the Lady Flames’ duo could battle it out for top honors and an automatic berth at the NCAA meet again on Friday.
Doan has served as Liberty’s No. 1 runner at both cross country meets thus far in 2021. With Ackley sitting out, she was the individual champion at the CSU Buccaneer Invitational. Doan then came in 13th (20:38.9 for 6K), nine seconds ahead of Ackley in 23rd (20:47.2), at the FSU Winter Cross Country Classic.
Ackley will attempt to become the Lady Flames’ first back-to-back women’s cross country champion since Jennifer Klugh captured three Big South titles in a row between 2010 and 2012.
Kennesaw State’s Lindsay Billings was impressive at the ASUN Indoor Track & Field Championships, winning the 3K in 9:30.38 and placing a close second to Ackley in the 5K in 16:25.98. However, the Owls will not be competing at Friday’s ASUN Cross Country Championships.
Lipscomb’s Courtney Brenner is always a factor in ASUN championship races, including her individual victory in 2018. Freshman teammate Lydia Miller also bears watching, following a fourth-place finish in the 3K (9:42.38) last weekend on the track.
Jacksonville’s Hayleigh Palotti should be in the mix as well. She came in fifth at the 2019 ASUN meet and clocked a 6K time of 21:06.0 at FSU last month.
Men’s Team Preview
North Florida and Lipscomb have alternated winning the last four ASUN men’s cross country titles, with UNF claiming victory in 2016 and 2018 and the Bisons taking the trophy in 2017 and 2019. Both teams are strong again in 2021, with Lipscomb ranked No. 5 in the South Region and North Florida checking in at No. 7 in the South Region. Liberty, which has placed second during each of its previous appearances at this meet, is currently listed No. 11 in the Southeast Region.
In 2019, Lipscomb edged the Flames by a single point (39-40) for the ASUN title. Four of the Bisons’ top five runners from that race are back, headlined by individual champion Brent Leber and Freshman of the Year Ronald Kigen (fifth place). Brady Johnson, who placed 18th overall that day, has enjoyed a breakthrough season. He has defeated Leber at each of the Bisons’ two cross country races and placed second in the ASUN 3K on the track last weekend.
North Florida won the CSU Buccaneer Invitational and placed 13th in a strong field at the FSU Winter Cross Country Classic, earlier this season. The Ospreys are being led Nathan Jubran, who came in third at the 2018 and 2019 ASUN Cross Country Championships. He won the CSU Buccaneer Invitational and sped to a time of 24:11.2 for 27th at the FSU Winter Cross Country Classic. Freshman Jake Turner is also off to a strong start to his collegiate career, placing second to Jubran among ASUN runners at each of his first two races.
In search of its first ASUN cross country team title and its first conference championship overall since 2013 (Big South), the Liberty men’s squad has a trio of first-team All-ASUN performers back from 2019 in runner-up Felix Kandie, fourth-place Ryan Drew and seventh-place Caleb Olson.
Drew has been the Flames’ most consistent performer of late. He was the team’s No. 1 runner at the CSU Buccaneer Invitational (third place) and the FSU Winter Cross Country Classic (72nd place). Most recently, he successfully defended his ASUN 3K title on the track with a personal-best time of 8:13.56 and placed third in the mile in 4:10.77.
Olson’s sophomore cross country season is off to a strong start. He has cracked 25:00 for an 8K for the first two times in his career, coming in eighth at CSU in 24:46.5 and 77th at FSU in 24:54.8.
Kandie has not been in top form in cross country so far in 2021 but just won the ASUN indoor track 5K in 14:39.20 on Saturday. Other Flames to post ASUN top-five finishes on the track included Joe Spitzer (third in the 3K in 8:25.19), freshman Kipruto Kogei (fourth in the 5K in 14:58.82) and freshman Kyle Harkabus (fifth in the mile in 4:17.91).
The Liberty men’s squad has placed inside the top two at each of its last 17 conference cross country championships, beginning with the 2003 Big South meet.
Men’s Individual Preview
Even though 489 days will have elapsed between the 2019 ASUN Cross Country Championships and Friday’s race, the top four finishers from 2019 figure to again be among the top contenders for the men’s individual title and the automatic ticket to Stillwater.
That year, the finishing order went as follows: Lipscomb’s Brent Leber followed by Liberty’s Felix Kandie, North Florida’s Nathan Jubran and Liberty’s Ryan Drew. Leber went on to compete at the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, marking the second straight year the ASUN men’s individual champion qualified for the NCAA national meet.
Leber will try to become the first back-to-back ASUN men’s cross country individual champion since Northern Kentucky’s J.J. Webber in 2013 and 2014.
Drew (three) and Kandie (two) have combined for five ASUN event titles on the track, but both will be chasing their first cross country conference title on Friday. Kandie will also be looking to qualify for the NCAA national meet in a second different sport. He was a second team All-American in the steeplechase at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Other names to watch include Lipscomb’s Brady Johnson (who has defeated teammate Leber head-to-head twice this season), Bellarmine’s Reid Masterson (who finished a close second to Kandie in the ASUN indoor 5K) and North Florida’s Jake Turner, expected to be the favorite for ASUN Freshman of the Year.
Bellarmine is seeking its first conference title in any event of any sport since joining the ASUN this school year.
No freshman has won the ASUN men’s cross country individual title since North Florida’s Logan Poteet in 2015.