Western Carolina men’s and women’s cross country squads took first place in the WCU/Papa’s Invitational Saturday morning.
The men’s squad edged out Cumberland College of Kentucky 26-29 while the women’s team beat out South Carolina 39-46.
On the men’s side, sophomore Caleb Bailey came home first in the 8k competition with a time of 26:14.
The Lawrenceville, Ga., native was fallowed by junior Jesse Norman in fourth and senior Andrew Pruett in eighth, notching times of 26:34 and 27:04, respectively.
WCU and CC dominated the race, as no other school posted a top ten finisher. Mars Hill managed to take third place with a score of 87, followed by Anderson at 123, Tusculum at 148 and Oglethorpe at 158.
Head coach Danny Williamson noted that the squad’s competition, though lacking one big name, was tough and a good test for the Cats early in the year.
“On the men’s side, Clemson usually comes but could not attend this year,” he said. “But Cumberland is one of the top three teams in the country in NAIA and cross country is their top sport. They have been a past champion several times in this event before, and beat us by 80 points last year.”
As for the women, senior Holly Bright was the top finisher in third place with a 19:32 clip on the 5k course. Sophomores Jerrine Peeler and Alissa Short followed suit, racing to eighth and ninth-place finished at 19:51 and 19:55, respectively.
Rounding out the top ten for the Lady Cats was junior Melanie Cooper, whose time of 19:57 proved good enough for tenth-place. Western was the only squad on the women’s side to place four runners in the top ten.
Despite South Carolina’s individual runners taking first and second place, having no other top ten performances cost the Gamecocks the title, falling seven short of WCU. Clemson finished a distant third at 70 while none of the six other competitors managed to score under 100.
Williamson pointed out that the women had to compete against a tougher field than the men.
“The competition was pretty tough because you had South Carolina and Clemson who are two big schools,” he said. “Our team did an outstanding job running together.”
The cross country squads will get their first taste of Southern Conference action this Saturday in the Catamount Classic at home.
The men will be running a 5000m course while the women will compete in a 2.2-mile event. The races will begin at 9:30 Saturday morning.
Facing conference rivals College of Charleston, East Tennessee State and Furman, among others, leads Williamson to believe the talent at the races will be deeper than that of the WCU/Papa’s Invitational.
“In the front of the pack it may not be any tougher,” he said. “But the depth of the field will be much tougher.”