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PBC Men’s Cross Country Championship Set for Saturday

MONTEVALLO, ALA – The Peach Belt Conference will hold its 22nd annual men’s cross country championships this Saturday, Oct. 20, from the University of Montevallo in Montevallo, Ala.  All 10 men’s teams will compete in a championship that will feature several new components.  The race begins at 9:00 am (central time) on the Montevallo Cross Country course, just adjacent to campus and the Falcon baseball field.

The location is one of the new things for the 2012 championships.  Montevallo hosts the cross country championships for the first time and their first PBC Championship event of any kind since joining the league in 2009.  The men will run the same 8k course most saw at the Falcon Classic on Sept. 22.  The second new thing will be the inclusion of Young Harris, who joined the PBC this fall.  The Mountain Lions will be competing in their first PBC Championship of any kind and one of the few they will be permitted to participate in this year.  YHC is undergoing the process of moving up to the NCAA Division II level and cannot compete in a postseason league tournament where an automatic bid is awarded.  Cross country has no automatic bids.

And while some things are new other things remain the same, such as the runner all eyes will be on when the starting gun fires on Saturday morning: UNC Pembroke’s Pardon Ndhlovu.  Ndhlovu will make his fourth and final appearance at the PBC Championships.  He won the event last year and looks to become only the fifth PBC runner to win multiple PBC titles.  Ndhlovu, who has never finished worse than third in the PBC run, has only gotten better in his senior season.  He has the three fastest 8k times in the Peach Belt this season and his 24:15 run at the Pre-Division I Nationals last weekend, where he finished third, shaved five seconds off his school-record 8k time, which he set two weeks before.  A four-time PBC Runner of the Week this year – 12 times in his career – Ndhlovu was also the 2011 PBC Runner of the Year as voted on by the coaches prior to the championship race.

But nobody is handing Ndhlovu a plaque just yet.  Augusta State won their first PBC Championship in 2011 and also won the Falcon Classic in September.  The Jaguars have been the highest-ranked PBC team in the region for the past four weeks and have a win and a second-place finish in their last two events.  Dustin Ross won the Falcon Classic at Montevallo in 25:55 while Jaiden Brandt was the team’s top finisher at the Mountain Dew Classic and the Jaguar Invitational and was named a PBC Runner of the Week.

Columbus State has won three of the four events they have entered this season, the lone second-place finish came to Augusta State at the Falcon Classic.  CSU won five straight PBC titles from 2006-10, a streak broken last year.  The Cougars can certainly pick up where they left off after winning the Division I-laden Jacksonville State Invitational in their last outing on Oct. 5.  Silas Rogut has two wins under his belt this season and his 25:34 8k at the Albany Invitational is the fifth-fastest 8k in the league this year.  Jacob Dirkman won the JSU race in 25:52 as the Cougars were 1-2-3 at that event.

Clayton State will be looking for their second overall PBC title and their first since 2005.  The Lakers finished third at the 2011 championship and have a pair of top-three finishes in their four races in 2012.  Clayton State was third at the Falcon Classic with runners Job Kemboi and Ciaran Lande both finishing in the top 10.  Aryton Azcue was the first Laker to cross the line at the Disney Classic, finishing 16th in a huge field in Clayton State’s last outing before the PBC.

Flagler is ranked #10 in the latest region polls and are a bit of an unknown heading into the PBC run.  The Saints did not race at the Falcon Classic and will be seeing the Montevallo course for the first time.  Flagler has run primarily in Division I events this season, but did finish third at the Embry-Riddle Classic and 12th at the Florida State Invitational.  Corey Mundy has led the Saints in three of their four events this year while Dillon Hodge led the team at Embry-Riddle.

The host Montevallo Falcons will have the advantage of course familiarity as they run the course for the third time this season on Saturday.  UM won their season-opening Early Bird Classic on the track and were fourth at the Falcon Classic.  Zach Walsh led the team in two races this year while Chris Pirrello led in the other two.

Young Harris has been the busiest team in the Peach Belt this season with seven meets behind them heading into their first PBC Championships.  The Mountain Lions won their own invitational to start the season and were sixth in last week’s Viking Open.  Sophomore Alex Bitok is the only PBC runner not named Pardon Ndhlovu to run an 8k in less than 25 minutes this season; he finished eighth at the West Georgia Invitational in 24:53, the fourth-fastest 8k in the league this year.  Freshman Cody Decker had the 13th-fastest 8k in the conference with a 25:58 at the West Georgia Invite.

Admission to the PBC Cross Country Championships is free.