Liberty XC Headed to Sunshine State for ASUN Championships
The Liberty men’s and women’s cross country teams will begin the championship portion of the 2019 season on Saturday, traveling to the Buckingham Course in Fort Myers, Fla., for the ASUN Cross Country Championships.
The men’s 8K will begin at 8:30 a.m., followed by the women’s 5K at 9:30.
How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
For the first time in meet history, the ASUN Cross Country Championships will feature live video streaming coverage, available on ESPN+.
Live results will be provided by Half-Mile Timing.
Periodic updates will be posted to the Liberty Track & Field/Cross Country Twitter account, @Liberty_XCTF.
Saturday’s forecast for Fort Myers calls for a high temperature near 90 degrees. During the morning hours, the temperature should remain in the 70s under partly cloudy skies.
Checking Out the Course
Liberty will be competing at FGCU’s Buckingham Course for the second time this season. The Flames and Lady Flames previewed the course on Sept. 7 at the FGCU Invitational, sweeping the men’s and women’s team titles.
Felix Kandie, Ryan Drew and Joe Spitzer produced a 1-2-3 finish in the men’s 8K. On the women’s side, Adelyn Ackley, Calli Parlier, Priscillah Kiplagat and Brittany Carnathan were the first four runners to cross the 5K finish line.
The Buckingham Course previously hosted the 2012 ASUN Cross Country Championships, which saw USC Upstate (men’s) and Lipscomb (women’s) capture the team titles.
History in the Making?
Liberty is expected to contend for both the men’s and women’s team championships on Saturday. No team has swept the ASUN men’s and women’s cross country team titles since Lipscomb did so three straight seasons, spanning 2013-15.
Liberty has not captured conference men’s and women’s cross country championships during the same season since claiming both Big South Conference titles in 2012.
Liberty won all four ASUN track & field team titles (men’s indoor, women’s indoor, men’s outdoor, women’s outdoor) in 2019, its first season of conference membership. No ASUN school has ever been the reigning conference champion in all six track & field/cross country sports at the same time.
Men’s Team Preview
Liberty graduated defending ASUN individual champion Azaria Kirwa but returns three of its top five finishers from the 2018 ASUN meet, where the Flames finished second to North Florida in their conference debut. It marked Liberty’s fifth straight conference runner-up finish following its most recent Big South Conference team championship in 2013.
Benjamin Klemmeck (eighth place), Nick Doan (ninth place) and Felix Kandie (11th place) each earned second team All-ASUN honors a year ago. Meanwhile, Kandie and Paul Squires (23rd place) both garnered ASUN All-Freshman team accolades.
This year, Kandie has stepped up as the Flames’ No. 1 runner as a redshirt sophomore after earning All-America honors in the steeplechase in June. Kandie has won a pair of races (Liberty Challenge and FGCU Invitational) and is a four-time ASUN Runner of the Week.
Transfer Ryan Drew has been a key addition to the team during his first year as a Flame, regularly running in Liberty’s No. 2 position. Most recently, he slashed his 8K personal best to 24:30.3 at the Oct. 19 Pre-National Invitational.
Joe Spitzer has claimed a pair of ASUN Freshman of the Week honors, while fellow freshman Caleb Olson has also become a regular fixture inside the Flames’ top five.
Liberty, which enters the weekend with a season-best No. 10 ranking in the Southeast Region, will square off against two other regionally ranked foes. North Florida currently sits No. 9 in the South Region, while Lipscomb checks in at No. 11.
Liberty defeated Lipscomb head-to-head during the Pre-National Invitational men’s blue (seeded) 8K on Oct. 19 in Terre Haute, Ind., placing 20th to the Bisons’ 35th. The Flames will be meeting North Florida for the first time in 2019 on Saturday.
North Florida, which is looking to win back-to-back men’s team titles for the first time in meet history, has finished second in meets hosted by both Florida and Florida State this fall.
Men’s Individual Preview
As mentioned above, Felix Kandie has come into his own during the 2019 cross country season. The Eldoret, Kenya native has defeated 468 of the 496 runners (94.4 percent) he has faced in four races and has lowered his 8K personal best to 24:06.1. As a result, Kandie is on the verge of becoming the seventh Flame ever to break 24:00, something no runner in ASUN Championship history has ever achieved.
The last Liberty sophomore to claim a men’s cross country conference title was Sam Chelanga with the 2008 Big South Conference crown.
Kandie’s strongest competition figures to come from North Florida sophomore Nathan Jubran. The reigning ASUN Freshman of the Year placed third in this race a year ago. Like Kandie, Jubran has won two of his first four races to start the 2019 campaign (dual meet with Florida and Mountain Dew Invitational).
Lipscomb’s Brent Leber has been impressive in his comeback from injury this fall. The 2016 ASUN All-Freshman Team member had not raced in over two years before returning with back-to-back top-10 finishes at the Commodore Classic and Louisville Classic this fall. Leber clocked an impressive 8K time of 23:49.8 at the Louisville Classic. However, his 24:41.4 effort at the Pre-National Invitational left him behind both Kandie and Ryan Drew.
Women’s Team Preview
With 2018 ASUN runner-up Noel Palmer redshirting the 2019 season, a youthful Liberty squad full of freshmen and sophomores has stamped itself an ASUN contender.
Last year, Calli Parlier placed fifth at this meet to earn ASUN Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on the first team All-ASUN squad. She was joined on the ASUN All-Freshman Team by Emma Bower (18th place).
Junior team captain Lauren Hirneisen came in 14th in 2018 and was a second team All-ASUN performer as the Lady Flames placed second to Lipscomb in the team standings.
Adelyn Ackley has impressed from day one as a freshman, sweeping the ASUN Women’s Runner of the Week and Freshman of the Week honors four times.
Fellow freshman Priscillah Kiplagat and first-year Lady Flame Brittany Carnathan have also been key additions to the roster this fall. Both have broken 22:00 for the 6K distance in recent weeks.
The Lady Flames have matched their best-ever Southeast Region ranking of ninth this fall. In the South Region, Lipscomb (No. 11) and North Florida (No. 14) are both listed.
Lipscomb is the defending ASUN champion and has won seven of the last eight conference women’s cross country titles. However, defending ASUN individual champion Courtney Brenner has yet to race this fall and Liberty topped the Bisons by eight places and 151 points at the Pre-National Invitational two weeks ago.
Liberty’s most recent women’s cross country conference crown came in 2016, which served as the 100th conference title of Brant Tolsma’s coaching career with the Flames.
Women’s Individual Preview
Liberty freshman Adelyn Ackley opened her collegiate career with back-to-back victories, including a 57-second triumph during her first visit to the Buckingham Course. That day (Sept. 7), Ackley clocked a season-best 5K time of 17:42.27 to win the FGCU Invitational in convincing fashion.
The native of Mears, Mich., has also climbed to No. 3 in program history for the 6K distance with her 20:33.3 effort at the Pre-National Invitational. She placed 15th overall and second among freshmen in that race, which featured numerous nationally ranked teams.
A freshman has not won the ASUN women’s cross country individual championship since 1996, when Georgia State’s Sarah Howard claimed the first of her three consecutive ASUN individual crowns.
A Liberty freshman has never claimed a conference’s women’s cross country individual title. Jacy Christiansen was the Lady Flames’ most recent conference champion, racing to the Big South individual victory in 2014.
Perhaps Ackley’s toughest competition may come in the form of Jacksonville sophomore Hayleigh Palotti. She earned a spot on the ASUN All-Freshman Team with an 11th-place showing at this meet in 2018. On the track, Palotti posted ASUN first-place finishes in the indoor mile and outdoor steeplechase as a freshman.
Like Ackley, Palotti has won a pair of races this fall, including the ASICS Embry-Riddle Classic and the UCF Invitational. The only Dolphin ever to capture an ASUN women’s cross country individual championship was Joane Pierre in 2012, the last time the meet was contested at the Buckingham Course.
Liberty’s top seven men’s and women’s runners will now prepare for the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. The meet, which will determine the qualifiers for the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, is slated for Nov. 15 at Panorama Farms in Earlysville, Va.
The remainder of the Flames and Lady Flames will wrap up their 2019 season at the Hokie Open, Nov. 8 in Blacksburg, Va.