Peach Belt to Run Cross Country Championships this Saturday in Aiken
AUGUSTA, GA – The Peach Belt Conference will hold its 21st annual men’s and women’s cross country championships this Saturday, Oct. 22, in Aiken, S.C. The race will be hosted for the first time by USC Aiken and run at the Pacer Path adjacent to the USCA Convocation Center. All 10 women’s teams and nine men’s teams will compete, with the women’s race beginning at 10:00 am with the men following at 10:45. Awards will be presented following the championships in the Convocation Center. Admission is free to the public.
For many years, PBC cross country has been the home to dynasties with teams winning six, seven or eight championships in a row. Columbus State comes to the 2011 meet with five straight men’s titles and six consecutive women’s titles, but will face their most serious competition yet as several PBC programs have elevated themselves to that level.
For the women’s race, CSU has dominated the last six championships and had the individual champion in three of the last four. The 2011 Lady Cougar team could very well extend that streak after a strong regular season. Columbus State opened the season with a win at the GSW Remembrance Run and competed in large Division I – dominated events at Florida State and Charlotte before finishing eighth at the Jacksonville State Foothills Invitational. Sisters Moneque and Moneka English have consistently been the top two runners for CSU.
One of the serious threats to CSU’s continued dominance comes from UNC Pembroke. The Lady Braves won the season-opening Gamecock Invitational and have top-10s in four of their five races this year including a ninth place at the 28-team Disney Classic in Orlando. Senior Livia Mahaffie has been named the PBC Runner of the Week three times this season and has run four 5k races under 20 minutes. She won the Gamecock Invitational and has been UNCP’s top finisher in all four of her races.
Augusta State won the Pacer Invitational on the Pacer Path on Sept. 17 and finished second at their own Jaguar Invitational two weeks ago. The Lady Jaguars have finished second at the PBC Championships in three of the last four years and may be poised for their first conference title. Jessica Carpenter has been ASU’s top runner in their last two races with a 10th at the Jaguar and a team-best time of 19:28 at the Charlotte Invitational. Lyndsay Nichols led the team in their first two races including a second-place at the Pacer Invite.
Montevallo will run in their third PBC Championship on Saturday after finishing third in their first race in 2009 and fifth last year. The Lady Falcons won the Tiger Invitational and were third at the Pacer Invitational. Junior Haley Evans is the current PBC Runner of the Week after smashing a school record with a 5k time of 18:54 at last weekend’s Queens Challenge in Charlotte, the fastest 5k run in the conference this season. In-Mi Matsunaga was the team’s top runner at the Pacer and was fifth at the Tiger.
Clayton State will also be looking for their first conference title on Saturday and appear to be hitting their stride as the season has progressed. The Lakers finished sixth at the Jacksonville State Foothills Invitational behind Samantha Walling’s time of 19:21. Walling was named the PBC Runner of the Week for that performance, the fastest 5k on the team this year. Jessica Smith was the team’s top finisher at the GSW Remembrance Run, where the Lakers finished second, and the Greater Louisville Classic. Smith ran her first sub-20 5k at the Foothills, their most recent run.
Flagler finished second at the Pacer Invitational behind Augusta State and may be in position to make a run at the title on Saturday. The Saints also had a top-10 at the Tampa Classic and good showings in huge meets at Disney and the University of Florida. Sophomore Taylor Strekel was named the PBC Runner of the Week in back-to-back weeks after winning the Pacer Invitational and running a season-best 19:42 at Florida.
Other teams in contention include Georgia College who was third at the Jaguar Invite and fourth at the Pacer. Allison Lones has been the Bobcats top finisher in all five races this year. Georgia Southwestern finished second at the Darton Invitational. Lisa Espino was third overall in that race. Nobody has run on the Pacer Path more than the Lady Pacers of USC Aiken. The first-time hosts would love nothing more than to capture their first PBC title on their home course. Keely Gillespie has led the team at all five of their races this year including a second-place at the Erskine Invitational. She also ran the Charlotte meet in 19:44, best on the team this season in a 5k.
On the men’s side, Columbus State will be seeking their sixth straight PBC Championship on Saturday, which would tie them for the longest title run in PBC history with Kennesaw State, who won six in a row from 1994 to 99. The 2011 Cougar team could very well do just that after winning their season-opener at the GSW Remembrance Run and finishing second at the Jacksonville State Foothills Invitational on Oct. 8.
Sophomore Ian Edwards won the GSW event and finished second at the Foothills, earning PBC Runner of the Week honors. Edwards ran the Charlotte Invitational in 25:59, his best time of the season and one of the few 8k’s run in less than 26 minutes in the PBC this year. Andy Henderson was the second Cougar to cross the line at the Foothills while John Neill was second overall at the GSW event.
UNC Pembroke finished third at the 2010 PBC Championship, their highest finish since 2005, and are ready to make the move to the top spot in 2011. The Braves won the season-opening Gamecock Invitational and were third at the College of Charleston Invitational. Junior Pardon Ndhlovu may be the runner to beat for the individual crown. The three-time PBC Runner of the Week won both the Gamecok and CofC races. He finished third in a huge field at the Charlotte Invitational, covering the course in 24:24, the fastest 8k time in the Peach Belt this season. Ndhlovu finished second at the 2009 PBC Championships and was third in 2010, earning All-Conference honors both times.
In only their second year of sponsoring a men’s cross country team, Augusta State won the Pacer Invitational at the Pacer Path on Sept. 17 and their own Jaguar Invitational on Oct. 8, their most recent outing prior to the PBC. Sophomore Dustin Ross has twice been named the PBC Runner of the Week this year. He won the Pacer Invitational at the Pacer Path in September, then set a personal best with a time of 25:53 at the Jaguar Invitational, finishing second. Robert Blackwelder was third at the Jaguar and seventh at the Pacer.
Clayton State has finished either second or third at the PBC Championship in each of the last four years and were the last team prior to Columbus State to capture the title. The 2011 Lakers could do it again with top-five finishes in three of their four meets this year including a third-place at the JSU Foothills Invitational on Oct. 8, their most recent run. Senior Albert Mong’ony was named All-Conference in 2010 and has been the Lakers top runner in all five meets in 2011 including third-place finishes at the Jacksonville State and Foothills events.
Montevallo also began their men’s cross country program in 2009 and have elevated themselves into contention in just three years. The Falcons have three top-five finishes in their four meets this season including a second-place at the Tiger Invitational. Freshman Zackary Walsh is the current PBC Runner of the Week after he set a school record at the Queens Royal Challenge last weekend with a time of 26:59 and has been the top UM runner in every event this year. Aaron Bush finished sixth at the Tiger Invite and 11th at the Pacer Invite.
Other teams in contention on Saturday include Georgia College, who has a second, third and fourth place finish this season. Daniel Horseman ran his top time of the year at the recent Jaguar Invitational and has been the top Bobcat finisher in the last two races. Francis Marion finished second at the Wingate Invitational last Saturday. Ian Wallace has been the first Patriot across the finish line in all five races. Flagler finished second at the Pacer Invitational just behind ASU in Setptember. Mike Lambert was third at that event. Armstrong Atlantic State will compete in their third PBC Championship since establishing the program in 2009. Parker Gordon has been the top Pirate in all five races this season including a fourth-place against USC Beaufort earlier this week.
The 2011 PBC Championship official web page can be seen at the USC Aiken website here.