Cross Country Kicks off A-Sun Championship Season
Belmont's Kipkosgei Magut can join Georgia State's Andrew Letherby and Troy's Michael Green as the only A-Sun male runners to win three individual conference titles. <br><i>Courtesy ASunPhotos.com</i>
Belmont's Kipkosgei Magut can join Georgia State's Andrew Letherby and Troy's Michael Green as the only A-Sun male runners to win three individual conference titles.
Courtesy ASunPhotos.com

Thursday, October 30, 2008

MACON, Ga. - For the first time since 1995, the Atlantic Sun Conference Cross Country Championships will be contested in the league’s backyard as Mercer hosts the 30th Men’s Championship and the 24th Women’s Championship on Saturday morning on the grounds of the Georgia Industrial Children’s Home.

Belmont’s men and women enter as the favorites having stood atop each of the five coaches’ polls conducted throughout the fall. The Bruins’ men have won each of the last six conference titles and should the men prevail again in 2008, seven straight titles would represent the second-longest streak of conference titles among any of the 17 championships the conference contests. From 1997 to 2004, FAU’s softball team won eight straight championships. Kipkosgei Magut has led the Bruins each of the two years, winning back-to-back individual titles. He can join Georgia State’s Andrew Letherby (1994, 1996-97) and Troy’s Michael Green (1998-2000) as the only three-time winners in conference history.

In addition to Magut, the Bruins feature each of the last three Freshmen of the Year recipients in Caleb Swartz (2005), Clay Hannah (2006) and Hillary Cheruiyot (2007) as well as Kevin Stone, an All-Conference runner in 2006.

The women also own six A-Sun titles, winning four straight from 2001-04 as well as the last two. A seventh title would tie the Bruins with FIU for the most women’s team titles. FIU won in 1988, 1990-1994 and 1997. Brittany Thune, third at the 2007 Championship and eighth in 2006, has run strong for the Bruins all season long and picked up a pair of Runner of the Week accolades. She enters Saturday’s contest having set a personal best in her last race, a 17:43.48 at the Evansville Invitational on Oct. 18.

Looking to dethrone the Belmont dynasty, ETSU’s men enter as the top contender along with Kennesaw State. The Buccaneers, second to the Bruins in 2005 and 2007, return a strong trio of Kenneth Rotich and Jeff Crane and Michael Deren. All three earned All-Conference honors in 2007 and Rotich and Deren own two of the six fastest 8K times in the league. The Buccaneers ran the championship course in late September at the RunFit Sports Invitational and won the event led by Rotich’s winning time of 24:09. He picked up three Runner of the Week awards, boosting his career total to six.

Kennesaw State welcomed Scott Burley back to the team after red-shirting in 2007. In 2006, he finished third at the A-Sun Championship and this year he picked up a pair of Runner of the Week accolades. The Owls have posted three consecutive top-four finishes since joining the conference and polled third in the final coaches’ poll.

Campbell’s Verrelle Wyatt joins Magut, Crane, Deren, Cheruiyot and Rotich among the 2007 All-Conference runners returning for 2008. The Campbell senior finished fifth last season and if he can repeat that performance, he would become just the fourth Camel to garner multiple All-Conference selections.

On the women’s side, Jacksonville and Kennesaw State has jockeyed back and forth in the coaches’ poll for the second and third positions. Elsabeth Goshu leads the Dolphins who have steadily improved their finish over the last four years from eighth in 2004 to fourth last season. Their hopes could be buoyed by a strong performance by 2007 All-Conference performer Anastasia Fokina who has returned to the lineup after suffering a broken right femur last season. The Owls own the lone women’s title not won by the Bruins the last seven years, winning in 2005. They finished second last year and need sophomore Mackenzie Howe to improve on an eighth-place finish in 2007 to claim the title. She won two Runner of the Week awards this fall and owns the fastest 5K time, running a 17:17.47 at the Auburn Invitational on Oct. 4. Soibhan Wolcott ran the third-fastest time of the year, an 18:18.70 at that same race.

USC Upstate’s women’s team has risen in the coaches’ poll throughout the season. Voted 10th in the preseason poll, the Spartans have put together a successful fall season and wound up fifth in the final poll. Sophomore Emily Tangwar built on her stellar freshman season that including a runner-up finish at the 2007 A-Sun Championship, with five top-seven finishes in 2008 including a win at the Eye Opener Cross Country Meet and a third-place showing at the RunFit Sports Invitational. .

Six All-Conference runners from the 2007 Championship are back this year led by Tangwar and Thune (second and third, respectively). Campbell sophomore Baillie Locke finished fifth overall, second to Tangwar among freshman last year and Lipscomb’s Carolyn Latham placed seventh. Both Locke and Latham own top-10 times entering the A-Sun Championship.

The host Mercer Bears will look to turn in a strong showing in front of the home crowd. Roland Adams and Mark Kushinka lead the men while Chereese Rowe and Kristie Caraway have paced the women throughout the season.

The day starts with the women’s race at 9:00 a.m. with the men running one hour later and the awards ceremony set for 11: 00 a.m. Visit www.AtlanticSun.org for full championship coverage.

The Atlantic Sun Conference is an 11-member league committed to Building Winners for Life. The A-Sun stands for achievement with integrity in both the academic and athletic arenas, with a focus on the balance between the two for our student-athletes. Headquartered in Macon, Ga., the A-Sun boasts six of the top eight media markets in the Southeast. The A-Sun includes a blend of the most prestigious and dynamic private and public institutions in the region: Belmont University, Campbell University, East Tennessee State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Jacksonville University, Kennesaw State University, Lipscomb University, Mercer University, University of North Florida, University of South Carolina Upstate and Stetson University.