ANDERSON, S.C. – Looking to continue building on their stellar accomplishments, the Anderson University men's and women's cross country teams will be branching out to compete in three new events this fall, as third-year Anderson head coach Kevin Eagle officially announced the Trojans' 2019 schedule on Friday.
The Trojans continue to make their presence felt and have become a force to be reckoned with among the region's upper echelon teams, with top finishes becoming the norm rather than the exception.
After becoming the first Trojan cross country squad – men or women – to qualify for the NCAA National Championships two seasons ago, the women's team made it two straight by earning a berth in last year's Championships in Pittsburgh, Pa., while the Trojan men continue to finish among the league and region's top teams.
"Other than two meets, we're going to different places," said Eagle. "I like to change up the schedule some, but also like to go back to one or two courses each year that are the same so we can see how we're doing and how we're progressing from year-to-year."
Anderson will open its slate at the Converse Kickoff Classic on Sept. 6, marking the Trojans' first-ever appearance at the Valkyries' event, but not their first appearance on the Milliken Research Center course, as AU hosted last year's South Atlantic Conference Championships on the same course. Familiarity with the course will be a plus for the Trojans, as both the men's and women's teams brought home second place at the 2018 league championships, with six runners capturing all-conference accolades.
A week later the Trojans will travel to the Sunshine State to compete at the University of Florida's Mountain Dew Invitational for the first time in program history. Last year's event was hosted by the Gators at the Mark Bostick Golf Course in Gainesville.
"Gainesville will be our big meet this year," added Eagle. "Obviously we will see a lot of Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference teams there and there will also be some Division II teams there that we don't ordinarily race up here."
Following a layoff of nearly two weeks, AU will compete in Charlotte, N.C., for the 10th time in 11 seasons, as the Trojans are slated to run in the Queen City Invitational on Sept. 27. In their last appearance on the fast McAlpine Creek Park course last October, the AU women finished 12th overall and eighth among NCAA D-II teams at the Royals Challenge, while the men's squad claimed seventh overall and fifth among NCAA Division II teams.
Six Trojan women posted career-best times at the Challenge, including Olivia Rish, Kamryn Osterbind and Hannah Beach, while every runner on the men's side notched personal bests, including Ben Clark, Weston Hutto, Phillip Quillen, Thomas Sutcliffe, Joey Teachout and Noah McLain.
"Queens hosts two meets each year and normally we do the Royals Challenge," noted Eagle. "But the way the schedule worked out, we'll be at this one. It is same course and it is one of the faster courses that we'll go to, so we can expect some personal-bests to be set."
Two weeks later, the Trojans will wrap up the regular season by traveling to middle Georgia for the Bobcat Invitational, which will be hosted by Georgia College in Milledgeville. Last year's Invitational featured the largest field in school history, with 18 teams competing on the Council Farm Course.
"One reason for going to the Bobcat Invitational for the first time is that unofficially, Georgia College will host the NCAA Regionals next year," said Eagle. "So we'd like to take the team down there and scout that course just in case they do host in 2020."
The South Atlantic Conference Championships will be hosted by Wingate on October 26 at the Bulldogs' cross country facility after AU hosted last year's conference championships at the Milliken Research Center. The Black and Gold saw both the men's and women's squads finish as runners-up at the event, with returners Clark, Hutto, Evans and Rish each capturing All-Conference honors.
"It will basically be on the same course as in 2017," said Eagle. "That's one reason we aren't going to a regional preview – because the conference and regional championships are going to be held there and I don't want our runners running the same course three times. We will use the SAC Championships as sort of our regional preview to set up. Our returners have run there before, so it shouldn't be anything new."
Two weeks later, AU will return to Wingate for the NCAA Regional Championships, where the women's team will be looking to earn its third straight appearance on the national stage. With three runners notching top-20 finishes, AU finished in third at last year's regional in Oakwood, Ga., and for the second consecutive year, the men's squad narrowly missed out on earning the program's first-ever appearance in the NCAA National Championships with a fifth-place finish.
The NCAA National Championships are slated for Nov. 23, in Sacramento, Calif.
"Well, it should be a little warmer than Evansville (2017) and Pittsburgh (2018)," noted Eagle. "We've had two cold places the last couple of years – and not that northern California will be a summer wonderland – but it should be a little warmer. We would normally go and do the national preview, but it isn't practical with it being in California. We'll be out there 2-3 days prior to the meet and we'll run the course every day or maybe two times a day just to check it out."