ANDERSON, S.C. – The Anderson University cross country teams will feature a combination of talent, youth and veteran experience when the Trojans begin their quest for regional and national success early next month in Spartanburg, S.C.
Paced by a pair of gifted, determined seniors in Haylee Love and Mason Hazel, the Trojans will be looking to remain in the upper echelon of the South Atlantic Conference, while taking another step toward prominence in the Southeast Region.
On the men's side, "We have three guys returning and a fairly large incoming group of 11 freshmen," said first-year Anderson head coach Kevin Eagle. "We know we have to work on the transition going from the [high school] 5k to the [collegiate] 8k. Just getting in the extra mileage and the training. They've done everything to a "T" from the ones I've talked to. The three returners are great leaders and I'm looking forward to seeing them help guide and develop the freshmen."
Mason Hazel, the lone senior on the men's squad, is a three-time All-Conference performer and has captured First-Team All-SAC honors each of the last two years.
"Mason is someone who is looking to go to nationals and become an All-American." added Eagle". "We've already had conversations. If he comes in and sticks to the plan and does everything he needs to do, that definitely should happen."
Hazel began his career on a strong note by being the top freshman finisher at the 2014 Southeast Regionals and has done nothing to diminish his stature as one of the region's top runners after claiming 16th place overall two years ago and finishing 22nd last season. The Summerville, S.C., native has posted six career top-10 finishes and has not finished out of the top-25 in either of the last two seasons.
"We will look to Mason for leadership and to lead the way," said Eagle.
Luke Horne is back for his sophomore campaign after posting his season-best finish by placing 11th in his collegiate debut at USC Upstate's Eye Opener and going on to earn SAC All-Freshman Team honors with a 35th-place finish at the SAC Championships. Junior John Drummond finished 23rd at the 2016 Upstate Invitational, 54th at the South Atlantic Conference Championships and 91st at the Furman Cross Country Classic.
"We are young," said Eagle. "But we were able to bring in some of the top runners in the state. So even though we are young, we are highly talented."
The women's team is expected to return 11 letterwinners, including five seniors and a trio of juniors among the 20 roster spots.
"It's a completely different story on the women's side," said Eagle. "We have a talented, experienced group. Having [Haylee] Love back as a strong No. 1 will really help out. [Martha] Coleman has put in a great summer. Abby [Bozarth] has come in and is looking to have a strong season, progressing from where she left off in track season last spring. We have several upperclassmen [that will contribute]. And we signed the No. 1 runner [Olivia Evans] from the state of South Carolina.
Love, the 2017 AU Female Athlete of the Year, was the first Trojan cross country runner to qualify for the NCAA National Championships since the 2011 campaign and earned Second-Team All-Sout h Atlantic Conference honors last season in both cross country and track, while capturing All-Southeast Region accolades in cross country.
A pair of juniors, Abigail Bozarth and Maddie Buddenberg will be looking to build on a season that saw them both earn Honorable Mention All-South Atlantic Conference accolades, while classmate Martha Coleman garnered Third-Team All-Conference track honors in the 10,000 meter run.
True freshman Olivia Evans earned six varsity letters while competing for Doorposts Christian Academy. The native of Boiling Springs, S.C. posted a career-best 5K time of 17:59.4 a year ago and was a five-time MVP for the Carolina Homeschool Cougars. Evans is also a five-time Independent Girls' Cross Country Champion and claimed back-to-back National Association of Christian Athletes (NACA) Championships as a junior and senior. A NACA All-American, Evans also garnered Spartanburg All-County honors and was a three-time Spartanburg County Champion.
"We won't put too many expectations on Olivia," noted Eagle. "We'll her grow and develop [as a collegiate runner]."
"We have a national caliber team on the women's side," added Eagle. "They know it. Last year they were the first team out (fourth) at the regionals. Going to the national championship for the first time in school history should be a goal."
Also looking to make an immediate impact will be Allyson Malone, who finished third at the Conference Carolinas Championships last year as a member of the Limestone women's team. A native of the Buckeye State, Malone was First-Team All-Conference Carolinas a season ago after earning Second-Team All-Conference honors as a freshman.
"Allyson is one of the top transfers," noted Eagle. "I'm very familiar with her. She finished 24th at regionals last year and was an Academic All-American. She's super excited to be here."
"Leadership will be a strength. With the upperclassmen leading the way, our nine incoming freshmen will have a chance to learn what a national championship caliber team looks like and trains like. We do have depth and it's a good problem to have competition in practice."
"We are staying somewhat close to home this season," Eagle said of the 2017 slate.
Anderson will open its schedule at USC Upstate's 34th Annual Eye Opener for the seventh time in nine seasons when the Trojans head to Spartanburg on Friday, Sept. 1.
"We will see a couple of strong region teams there," added Eagle. "Ones that we are very similar to in talent, so it'll be a good test to see where we are in the early stages. Just like the name says, it's an eye opener and we'll be able to see how the freshmen are transitioning."
A week later Furman will be hosting its fifth annual Cross Country Classic and the Black and Gold will be making its sixth appearance in seven years on the Furman University Golf Course.
"Furman is a really big meet," noted Eagle. "A lot of Division-I schools will be there, along with a lot of the top D-II schools from the Southeast Region. That's really going to be our test to see where we are and what type of team we have looking forward into the championship portion of the schedule."
After closing out the month of September by traveling back to Spartanburg for the USC Upstate Invitational, the Trojans will compete in the Piedmont College Invitational for the first time in school history as a tuneup for the SAC Championships.
Following a two-week layoff, AU will travel to Hickory, N.C., on Oct. 21 to compete in the SAC Championships after each squad posted third-place finishes a season ago and two weeks later, the Trojans will make an appearance in the NCAA Southeast Regionals, which will be hosted by fellow South Atlantic Conference-member Wingate.
The NCAA Championships will be hosted in Evansville, Ind., on Saturday, Nov. 18.