JACKSON, Tenn. - With the cross country season starting up this weekend, the coaches' have released their 2011 TranSouth Conference Preseason Polls. Union (Tenn.) University is the favorite in both the women's poll and the men's poll. The Union ladies have won eight straight TranSouth Titles, while the Union men are on a streak of seven straight conference titles.
Blue Mountain (Miss.) College is was picked to finish second in both the men's and women's poll, Bethel (Tenn.) University is slotted to finish third in both polls, while Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) was picked fourth in both polls.
The teams start on Saturday, September 3 in the Memphis Twilight Race in Memphis, Tenn. the athletes will spend the months of September and October getting prepared for the TranSouth Conference Meet on October 29 at Union University. Because the TranSouth has fewer than six members that participate in cross country, the teams will then race on November 5 in St. Louis, Mo. in the NAIA Qualifying Meet to try and earn spots in the NAIA National Meet.
Below are the coaches' polls for 2011, followed by team capsules for each of the four schools.
2011 TranSouth Women's Cross Country Coaches' Poll
1. Union University
2. Blue Mountain College
3. Bethel University
4. Freed-Hardeman University
2011 TranSouth Men's Cross Country Coaches' Poll
1. Union University
2. Blue Mountain College
3. Bethel University
4. Freed-Hardeman University
2011 TEAM CAPSULES
BLUE MOUNTAIN COLLEGE TOPPERS
Tuesdae Rowland, an all-TransSouth Athletic Conference performer a year ago, is the lone senior and BMC's first four-year runner. Emma Baxter, a sophomore, also earned all-conference honors a year ago.
The Lady Toppers have two juniors - Beth Goolsby and Stephanie Dillard - also returning from last year's team that finished second in the TSAC. Keira Mayfield is a sophomore transfer and Kacie Harris, Kelsea Hendrix and LaTifa Swims are three new freshmen.
"I think we'll be better than last year," Duley said. "I know our times are already faster and we've got really good chemistry on this team. Tuesdae and Emma have both proven themselves, but Swims and Hendrix are coming on strong. It's going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out."
Austin Epting, all-conference a year ago, is back for his junior year and the Toppers have three seniors back for their final year: Hunter Flanagan, Richard Feist and Nathan Young. Derek Scott, a junior, and Casey Bales, a sophomore also return from last year-s third-place TSAC team.
BMC will also have six freshmen competing: Drew Bruce, Zack Brock, Brian McDonnieal, Bryan Cook, Riley Bennett, and Jose Valle.
"They are packing up as a group and the younger runners are staying with our upper-classmen," Duley said. "Austin is his usual intense self, but the others are all right there together and that will help tremendously in how we place in meets."
BETHEL UNIVERSITY WILDCATS
The Bethel Lady Wildcats return four seniors in Jennifer Chepkemboi, Emily LaForce, Cassie Hassell, and Mitzi Murphree to anchor this year's team. This group was part of a team that finished third in the conference last season. The Lady Wildcats also welcome four new faces in Alyssa Montague from Bartlett, TN, Erin Swindle from Tampa, Fl, Deanna Irvin from Ashland City, TN, and Brianna Phillips from Savannah, TN.
Bethel Head Coach Brandon Kilburn commented, "We are very excited about the upcoming season. We have a great mixture of youth and experience and we look forward to see how everyone progresses throughout the season. It will be a tough conference as always but we feel really good about our student athletes."
The Wildcat men return everyone from last year's team which finished second in the TranSouth Conference. Senior Nelphat Bor looks to add to his already decorated career with a strong finish. Along with Nelphat, the Wildcats return Senior Emmanuel Tavares, along with juniors Peter Kiplagat, Bethuel Boinett, Jacob Robertson, and Brett Adams. Sophomores Jacob Reeves, Michael Holt and Ben Malin are back. The Wildcats welcome newcomers Darius O' Neal, a transfer from Milligan College along with freshmen Brandon Cooper and Billy Johnson.
‘We have a very experienced men's team and we have high expectations for this group. Having so many upper classmen the guys know what to expect and we hope all their hard work pays off by the end of the year," commented Bethel Head Coach Brandon Kilburn.
FREED-HARDEMAN UNIVERSITY LIONS
With nine runners on the roster, Freed-Hardeman cross country coach Derrick Spradlin hopes to take his program another step forward in its third season of existence. The Lady Lions placed seventh of 10 teams at the NAIA qualifying meet last season and return all of their top runners from that squad.
Sophomore Mary Faust and senior Hannah Leach are the team's top returning runners. Faust finished 29th at the qualifying meet while Leach came in 32nd. Also returning are seniors Brianna Steffy, Elise Beisel and Mert Shepard and sophomore Jordan Saliba.
Newcomer Sloan Scott (Memphis, Tenn./Harding Academy) is also expected to make an immediate impact after finishing fifth in the TSSAA state meet last year. She is joined in the freshman class by Bethany Iversen and Bethany James.
The Lion cross country team will feature six runners this year with three returnees and three newcomers. Senior Luke Searcy will be the team's top returning runner after finishing 29th at the NAIA qualifying meet. Also back are senior Bryan Davis and junior Jason King.
FHU did lose its top runner from last season in Zac Cook, but Spradlin expects the additions of freshmen Christean Covington and Trent Adams to compensate for Cook's departure. Both bring impressive high school resumes to the team and will help add depth to the roster.
Sophomore Brandon Mann joins the team after playing soccer for the Lions last year.
UNION UNIVERSITY BULLDOGS
The Union University women's cross country team is coming off an eighth straight TranSouth Conference Title. Union returns six runners from last season, including all four runners that were named to the post season honors list. Allison Martin, Ashley Stewart, Hannah Clardy and Lilli Harmon all return as all-conference runners. Martin returns as the reigning TranSouth Runner and Newcomer of the year from last season as a freshman.
Union also advanced to the NAIA National Meet for the fourth time in school history as a team.
The senior class includes Clardy and Carissa Wilson. Clardy is a former newcomer of the year as a freshman and was the conference runner of the year as a sophomore.
Two juniors are back for their third seasons including Harmon and Cally Howell. Both have contributed to the long standing success of the women's program.
Stewart and Martin both return for their sophomore seasons after leading Union as freshmen. Martin was named the TranSouth Runner of the Week four times.
Two freshmen join the team this season. Audrey Hazlehurst and Whitney Sweet both enter Union with an impressive running history. They will be expected to contribute right away in helping continue the winning tradition of the program.
Johnson adds, "Our women's team returns six of eight runners from the 2010 TranSouth Championship team. We add Audrey Hazlehurst, a multiple time Tennessee State runner-up cross country runner, and Whitney Sweet, an outstanding prospect from Roswell, Ga. This group of girls have been spread out all over the world this summer doing mission work and study abroad programs. It should be an exciting year watching Audrey and Whitney blend in with an experienced team that hopes to make it back to the NAIA nationals and improve on last years performance."
The Union University men's cross country team is returning all but one runner from last season, including all three all-conference runners Alex Bett, Edwin Kurgat and Zach Covington. Union captured their seventh straight TranSouth Conference Title last season and look to win again, in their final season in NAIA and TranSouth competition. The Bulldogs also advanced to the NAIA National Meet as a team for the third time in school history.
Union returns seven runners from last season. Union has just one newcomer on the team in, freshman Lucas Peiser. Peiser will look to step in and provide an immediate impact on Union championship hopes.
Union returns three seniors including Covington, Bett and Joel Wellum to lead this experienced team. All three have been award winning runners during their time at Union. Bett earned the TranSouth Runner of the Year award for the second time in his career and was named conference runner of the week twice last season.
Two juniors Drake Ott and Logan Smith are back for their third seasons as runners for Union. Both contributed to Union's team success in returning to the national meet last season.
Caleb Creel and Kurgat return after successful freshman seasons last year. Kurgat was named conference runner of the week twice and was selected as the TranSouth Newcomer of the Year as a freshman.
Johnson adds about the men's program, "Our men's team returns seven runners from the 2010 TranSouth championship team and will add Lucas Peiser, an Arkansas state high school cross country champion, to our squad. This group of guys is a special group to work with. I look forward to watching them as they try to achieve great things together and return to the NAIA national championship for our last time."