Macon, Ga. – The Belmont stranglehold on the men’s and women’s cross country titles is expected to continue in 2007 as both teams were the picks to win the league titles, the Atlantic Sun Conference announced on Monday. The men were the unanimous choice while the women were picked first by 11 of the 12 coaches.
The first year Eagles return seven letterwinners from last year on the men’s side and four for the women’s team. Last season, the men’s team finished eighth in the South Region of NCAA Division II last season while the women finished 10th. With the core of returning players and influx of new talent, FGCU has high hopes for their first season in NCAA Division I and the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“It’s no surprise that we were not selected high within the preseason poll. We are new to Division I and the Atlantic Sun Conference,” added Head Coach Chris Highfield. “The important thing is that we work hard every day continuing to improve throughout the entire season. If we do that, I believe we will finish much higher than we were predicted.”
After scoring just 21 points at the 2006 Atlantic Sun Championships, the Belmont men return four of their scoring runners from the meet, including 2006 individual champion and A-Sun Runner of the Year, Kipkosgei Magut. Magut, a junior, won two individual titles last fall and finished 10th at the NCAA South Regional. The Bruins, winners of the last five men’s championships, also feature seniors Kevin Stone (5th at 2006 A-Sun Championship) and John Brigham (6th) along with sophomore Clay Hannah (7th). Hannah was the 2006 Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year.
The leading challengers to dethrone Belmont should be Kennesaw State and ETSU; they were the only two schools to receive second-place votes. The Owls, second to Belmont in 2006, return five of their runners from the A-Sun Championships including junior Scott Burley, who finished third, and Peikko Solla (11th). Solla was the second-fastest freshman at the league meet. ETSU finished third in 2006 and return their top four runners from that meet including All-Atlantic Sun runner Michael Deren.
The Belmont women return three of the top eight from last year’s A-Sun Championship, including senior Lauren Williams. Williams was the runner-up at the league meet and has been a three-time member of the all-Atlantic Sun team. She will be joined by Elizabeth Smothers, who finished 5th at the A-Sun Championship and Brittany Thune, whose eighth place finish earned her the Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year honor.
The lone first-place vote not to go to Belmont went to the UNF women’s team. In 2006, the Ospreys finished a mere 14 points behind the Bruins. In 2007, UNF will return Amanda Davey (4th at the A-Sun Championship), an all-Atlantic Sun performer, along with Hillary Adams and Fredrik Johansson, both members of the All-Freshman team.
Kennesaw State, third at the 2006 A-Sun Championships was the third choice by the coaches in the preseason poll. The Owls return four of its runners from the league meet including Erin Sutton, the 2005 Freshman of the Year and a member of the All-Atlantic Sun team in both 2005 and last season. The Owls found more youthful talent last year with Soibham Wolcott. She made the All-Freshman team following a 21st-place finish at the A-Sun Championships.
The Eagles open the season on Friday September 7th, when they travel to the Gator Invitational hosted by the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. The women’s meet begins at 6:30 pm while the men run at 7:00 pm.