November 11, 2011

USCAA Cross Country Championship Preview

Written by Jeremiah John

BUENA VISTA, Va.—The Southern Virginia University men's and women's cross country team will compete against 26 other schools at the USCAA nationals meet November 11, in Lake Placid, New York.

Led by first years Tori Faulkner (Mesa, Ariz.) and Ryan Hatch (Orem, Utah), the Knights hope to improve upon last year's nationals, where the women's team tied for fifth among ten teams and the men took sixth of fourteen teams.

The women's team returns five runners—senior captains Tori Isham (Snohomish, Wash.) and Cassie Cooper (Kelso, Wash.), sophomores Kera MacFarlane (Yorktown, Va.) and Cameryn Lee, and senior Bridget Gonzalez (Riverside, Calif.). But most of the team members—eight runners—are in their first year of collegiate competition. One of these newcomers is Leah Huber of Castle Rock, Colorado, who finished in the top 15 in every single meet this year, including a remarkable five top-five finishes. Fellow freshman Shelbi Prince of Mexico, Missouri finished in the top ten in four races, including a sixth-place finish in the Knights' team win at the Hood Invitational on October 22nd.

First year Tori Faulkner leads the women's team into nationals after an outstanding regular season. Twice the USCAA runner of the week, Faulkner took third place at Berea and Roanoke, came in second in the home opener and at Virginia State, and won the dual meet against Salem as well as the Hood Invitational. Faulkner's first-place finish at Hood was the first individual major-meet victory by an Southern Virginia cross country runner in years, and it led the Knights to a commanding 19-point victory.

The 2010 USCAA women's champions, the St. Mary of the Woods Pomeroys (Terra Haute, Ind.) return five of their top six runners, including the USCAA individual champion Logan Fry along with 2010 All-Americans Steph Runyon and Cassandra Barnett. This year Runyon has led the team in almost all its meets, running at a faster pace than last year's second place 24:43 finish in the USCAA nationals 6K. She finished her last two 5K races in 19:40 and 19:42.

The Southern Virginia men's team returns senior captain Casey Mundell (Dededo, Guam) as well as sophomore Chris Werner (Mansfield, Texas) and senior Tyson Babbel (Bryn Mawr, Pa.). The rest of the eleven-man team is rounded out by first years, including Jacob Smoot (Bakerfield, Calif.) and Cory Prince (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) who have consistently finished in the Knights' top five.

The pack is led by freshmen Hatch and Jefferson Chandler (West Linn, Ore.). Hatch took second in both of the team's dual meets this season, and added top ten finishes in the major meets at Roanoke and Hood, where the Knights took third of eight and fourth of nine respectively. Chandler joins Hatch as another sub-30 minute runner in the 8K, and has taken two top-25 finishes in major meets, along with top-five finishes in the home opener versus Hampden-Sydney and the Virginia State meet.

Last year's USCAA men's champion Spalding University of Louisville, Kentucky returns four of last year's top five harriers, including 2010 USCAA individual champion Abram Deng. Deng finished last year's 8K race in 25:22 as his team won the title easily, with all of their front five placing among the top nine finishers. More recently, Deng led the Spalding men to victory in the 2011 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships on October 29.

Men's and women's cross country have won more national titles than any other sport at Southern Virginia University since 1996. The women's team won nine national titles in their first nine years in the USCAA, starting in 1998. But if they win nationals this year, it will be their first national championship since 2006. The men's team also has a national title, won in its first year of USCAA competition in 1998.

The 2011 USCAA cross country nationals is held in Lake Placid, New York at the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics. The 8K and 6K courses follow the path of cross country skiing runs, covering grassy rolling hills. This year's nationals are hosted by Paul Smith's College of Upstate New York. The women's race, which starts at 11 am, is expected to include 11 complete teams and 133 total runners. The men's race, which starts at noon, is expected to include 183 runners and 16 complete teams. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the high 30s or low 40s, with some chance of snow or rain.