ANDERSON, S.C. – With a combined two dozen returning letterwinners from last year's men's and women's cross country teams, including five All-South Atlantic Conference performers, second-year Anderson head coach Kevin Eagle announced the Trojans' 2018 schedule on Thursday.
The cross country teams continue to reach new heights, as last year's women's squad claimed second place at both the South Atlantic Conference Championships and at the NCAA Southeast Regional, becoming the first Trojan cross country squad – men or women – to qualify for the NCAA National Championships. The men's team finished among the upper echelon at both the league championship (third) and at the NCAA Regionals (fourth).
"Our schedule is really geared toward the championship portion of the season," said Eagle. "Nearly all of the courses are new to us this year - we didn't go to most of them [last year]. We had a lot of freshmen last year and tried to stay low-key. This year, we're going to open it up a little. Early on, we're looking at getting in the base mileage and the training. Our first three meets are to see where we are and to gauge against competition and then the last four meets are the championship portion."
Anderson will open its slate at Furman's Cross Country Classic on Sept. 15, marking the Trojans' seventh appearance on the Furman University Golf Course in eight seasons. The women's team saw some new personal-best times posted, with Allyson Malone finishing 21st to lead the women's team to a fourth place finish a year ago. The Trojan men's squad also captured fourth place on the strength of Ben Clark's 22nd-place finish.
"With it being an NCAA festival year, we wanted to push everything back as much as we could and fortunately Furman pushed their meet back a week," noted Eagle. "The Furman meet will allow us to gauge where we are. It's a really large meet with a lot of region opponents, including South Atlantic Conference teams, and even some from the South and Atlantic Regions. There'll be teams from the ACC and SEC there. It's actually quite a large meet to open with, but it's so close and in our back yard, it is hard to pass up. It'll be a really good test to see where we are that early in the year."
Two weeks later the Trojans travel to the Peach State to compete in the North Georgia Cross Country Invitational for the first time in school history. The event will be hosted by the Nighthawks in Oakwood, Ga., site of the 2018 NCAA Southeast Region Championships.
"It's our first time at this meet," added Eagle. "And we'll be running the course twice during the season. It's a fast course and we should post good times."
After gaining experience on the NCAA Southeast Region course, AU will compete in Charlotte, N.C., for the ninth time in 10 seasons, as the Trojans are slated to run in the Royals Challenge at McAlpine Creek Park on Oct. 12. In their last appearance two seasons ago in the Queen City, the Trojan women claimed seventh place out of 40 teams, with Abigail Bozarth pacing the returners with a 56th-place finish during her sophomore campaign. The men's squad claimed 10th place out of 39 teams that competed, with Luke Horne leading the returners from that appearance.
"McAlpine Creek Park is a championship caliber course and really fast course," noted Eagle. "It's to get our athletes on a national course against national competition. There will probably be 40 teams there and again we'll see more conference and regional teams competing that we'll see later in the season, along with some of the top NCAA Division I teams, as well. We'll just be getting them used to racing against [quality] competition."
A week later, the Trojans are scheduled to compete at the NCAA Pre-National Meet, which will be hosted by Slippery Rock and is slated for the Bob O'Connor Golf Course at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. AU will follow up by hosting the 2018 South Atlantic Conference Championships, Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Milliken Research Center in Spartanburg, S.C. Anderson will be hosting the event for the first time since joining the conference in 2010.
"We have six of our top seven guys coming back and five of our top seven women returning, so we're looking to get back to Nationals," said Eagle. "There will be teams from all over the country coming to check this course out since it hasn't hosted a cross country meet since the 70s. It should be a pretty good meet and get us ready for the championship portion of our season. We are going to treat it exactly as though we are going to nationals, so if we get back [to Pittsburgh] in December, we'll know what to expect."
On the women's side last season, seven runners posted either season-best or career-best times, as the Trojans captured second place at the 2017 SAC Championships – marking their highest finish since the 2011 campaign. Allyson Malone garnered First-Team All-Conference accolades by placing seventh, while Olivia Evans collected Second-Team All-SAC and All-Freshman Team honors after finishing 12th and Bozarth captured Second-Team All-SAC recognition after finishing 13th.
Four runners posted career-best times on the men's side as AU claimed third place at the league championships a year ago. Ben Clark finished 11th, while earning Second-Team All-SAC and All-Freshman Team accolades. Weston Hutto claimed 20th place and earned Honorable Mention All-SAC honors and Cameron Owens-Hunter narrowly missed earning honorable mention accolades after finishing 22nd.
"We are hosting in Spartanburg at the Milliken Research Center because that course is a national-caliber course," noted Eagle. "It has hosted Division II national championships and [multiple] Division-I conference championships. I wanted to give other SAC schools – and us – a good experience. The course is well known and we are excited about it. It should be a good meet."
Next up for the Black and Gold are the NCAA Regionals, where the women's team will be seeking to earn its second straight appearance on the national stage. With four runners finishing in the top-14, AU finished as runners-up at last year's regional in Wingate, N.C. The men's squad narrowly missed out on earning the program's first-ever appearance in the NCAA National Championships with a fourth-place finish.
The NCAA National Championships are slated for Dec. 1, in Pittsburgh, Pa.