NCAA SE Regional Championships Slated for Friday in Louisville
After strong showings at the ASUN Championships, the Liberty men’s and women’s cross country teams will now head to Louisville, Ky., for Friday’s NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships. The meet, which will determine the team and individual qualifiers to the 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, will be contested at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park.
The women’s 6K is scheduled for 11 a.m., with the men’s 10K to follow at noon. This will mark the first regional cross country competition since 2019, as last year’s regionals were not contested due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to Follow the Flames and Lady Flames
Live results, featuring in-progress splits and team scores, will be provided by PrimeTime Timing.
Friday’s weather in Louisville calls for partly cloudy skies and a temperature in the 50s at race time. Rain is in the forecast for Thursday, which could lead to a soggy course on Friday.
Checking Out the Course
Friday will mark Liberty’s first race at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park since Nov. 18, 2017. That day, Azaria Kirwa placed 25th at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
The NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships will be contested in Louisville for the seventh time but the first since 2014. Liberty’s best team regional finishes in program history came at this course. In 2007, the men’s team finished fifth and the women’s team was seventh at the NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships.
Additionally, all three of the Flames’ NCAA Division I cross country individual national championships (Josh McDougal – 2007, Sam Chelanga – 2009 and Sam Chelanga – 2010) were preceded by an individual regional title in Louisville.
Three current Flames (Noel Palmer, Grace Dwyer and Landon Miller) have previously raced at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park during their collegiate careers. Palmer is the only one who has done so in a Liberty uniform, placing a team-best 57th in the Pre-Nationals black race on Oct. 14, 2017 in a 6K time of 22:11.4.
Dwyer raced in Louisville twice in 2017, headlined by the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. She clocked a 6K personal-best time of 20:55.5 for 125th place, helping Furman place seventh as a team.
Miller made three appearances at the Louisville Classic (2017, 2019 and 2020) for Indiana Wesleyan. He was the men’s blue race runner-up in 2020 with an 8K time of 24:52.8.
How to Punch Your Ticket to Tallahassee
The common goal for all men’s and women’s teams competing in Louisville on Friday is to qualify for the 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships, to be contested Nov. 20 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Fla. Here’s what it takes:
Team Qualification: The top two teams at each of Friday’s nine regional meets will automatically advance to the national meet. Liberty’s region consists of teams from Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The national field will then be filled with 13 at-large selections, comprising a total of 31 men’s and 31 women’s teams which will compete in Tallahassee. The at-large squads will be determined using a formula based upon head-to-head success against other national qualifiers during the regular season.
Individual Qualification: All runners who place in the top 25 at the regional meet earn all-region recognition and become eligible for advancement to Tallahassee. The national meet features 38 individual competitors not on advancing teams. The top four finishers from each regional meet who are not part of a national-qualifying squad will punch their ticket to Tallahassee. Then, two at-large individuals will be added to round out the national field.
In summary, the only people who will know for sure that they are bound for Tallahassee on Friday are the top two teams in each race and the first four individual finishers who are not part of one of those teams. The complete field of team and individual qualifiers to Tallahassee will be revealed Saturday at 5 p.m. on NCAA.com.
Women’s Team Preview
No. 27 Liberty will attempt to follow up its second straight ASUN title with its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
In order to do so, the Lady Flames will need to record their best regional finish in program history. Liberty’s top showing to date was a seventh-place finish in 2007, during ASUN Coach of the Year Heather Zealand’s first stint on the Lady Flames’ coaching staff.
After finishing 26th at the 2017 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships, the Lady Flames produced back-to-back 13th-place efforts in 2018 and 2019.
Liberty enters Friday’s meet ranked No. 4 in the Southeast Region, following a program-best No. 3 regional ranking earlier in the season. The Lady Flames trail ACC champion NC State, ACC runner-up North Carolina and SEC fourth-place finisher Kentucky in the regional poll, while SoCon champion Furman is just behind Liberty in fifth.
NC State ranks No. 1 nationally with North Carolina checking in at No. 9. Liberty, which has cracked the national rankings for the first time this fall, is No. 27 while Kentucky rounds out the poll at No. 30.
The Lady Flames squared off against both North Carolina and Kentucky at the FSU XC Invite/Pre-Nationals on Oct. 15. North Carolina came in fifth that day, Liberty was eighth and Kentucky took 12th.
If Liberty is unable to claim one of the two automatic qualifying spots on Friday, the Lady Flames’ best hope at an at-large bid begins with a third-place regional finish. Liberty would then benefit if No. 16 Michigan State (Great Lakes) and No. 23 Georgetown (Mid-Atlantic) place inside the top two at their respective regional meets. The Lady Flames beat both teams head-to-head earlier this season.
Liberty is one of six conference champions entered in Friday’s race, along with NC State (ACC), Furman (SoCon), Elon (CAA), High Point (Big South) and Norfolk State (MEAC).
Women’s Individual Preview
Liberty has been led by the dynamic duo of Adelyn Ackley and Calli Doan this fall. Both Lady Flames have recorded top-10 finishes in all four of their races.
Most recently, Doan captured the ASUN individual title in a program-record 5K time of 16:57.4 with Ackley following in third place.
At the FSU XC Invite/Pre-Nationals on Oct. 15, Ackley (sixth place, 20:04.9) and Doan (seventh, 20:05.0) both dipped under the previous Liberty 6K standard.
Both Ackley and Doan are seeking their first career all-region (top 25) honors. Ackley was unable to finish the 2019 regional race due to injury, while Doan placed 26th that day.
Noel Palmer owns the top regional finish among Liberty’s current roster with her 18th-place showing in 2018. Grace Dwyer came in 41st at the 2017 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships for Furman, while Anna Hostetler took 54th at the 2018 NCAA Division I Midwest Regional Championships for Iowa.
Hostetler (sixth place), Palmer (12th) and Dwyer (14th) joined Doan and Ackley in earning All-ASUN honors two weeks ago for the conference champion Lady Flames.
Liberty’s best-ever individual finish at this meet was second place, by Ednah Kurgat in 2015. She is the most recent Lady Flame to qualify for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships as an individual.
The Lady Flames have only boasted two all-region performers in the same season once previously. In 2001, Heather (Sagan) Zealand finished sixth while Samantha Pelletier took 18th.
NC State’s Kelsey Chmiel and Katelyn Tuohy went 1-2 at the ACC meet and figure to be two of the top contenders for first place on Friday.
Men’s Team Preview
The Liberty men’s squad placed second to North Florida at the ASUN Cross Country Championships, marking the Flames’ 19th consecutive top-two finish at its conference meet.
This week, the Flames will seek their fourth top-10 showing in the last five regionals. Liberty placed ninth in 2016, seventh in 2017 and sixth in 2018 before dropping to 11th in the Southeast Region in 2019.
The Flames enter the week with a No. 7 regional ranking, which is Coach Isaac Wendland’s squad’s top regional ranking since 2018.
After finishing two spots ahead of first-year ASUN member Eastern Kentucky at the conference meet, the Flames will attempt to finish ahead of EKU at the regional meet for the first time since 2017.
National No. 17 Furman, the SoCon champion, tops the regional rankings. The Paladins are followed by ACC third-place finisher Wake Forest at No. 2.
Men’s Individual Preview
As they have all season, Felix Kandie (sixth place) and Ryan Drew (ninth) paced the Flames at the ASUN Cross Country Championships.
Kandie, Drew and Olson are the only three Flames who have ever competed in a cross country 10K prior to Friday. Kandie owns the top regional finish of the bunch, crossing the finish line 42nd at the 2019 NCAA Division I Southeast Regional Championships.
Azaria Kirwa (seventh place in 2018) was the most recent Flame to earn all-region recognition with a top 25 finish at this meet, when he qualified to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships for the second year in a row.
The last time multiple Liberty men’s runners garnered all-region medals was 2010, with the trio of Sam Chelanga (first), Evans Kigen (second) and Josh Edmonds (15th).
Big South champion Athanas Kioko of Campbell and Wake Forest’s Zach Facioni figure to be among the top individual contenders. ASUN champion Ahmed Jaziri of Eastern Kentucky will try to become the fourth straight ASUN victor to qualify for the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.