JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Oct. 30, 2009) - A year ago, the ETSU men's cross country team began its run for the Buccaneer "Trifecta" by ending Belmont's six-year run as Atlantic Sun Cross Country Champions. On Saturday morning, at the Speling Sports Complex in DeLand, Fla., the Buccaneer men's squad will look to keep the conference crown in Johnson City as the first of 17 A-Sun Championships are contested this season.
ETSU, who captured its 21st cross country conference championship last season in Macon, Ga., hopes to become the first team other than Belmont to win consecutive titles since Georgia State accomplished the feat from 1995-97.
The Bucs were picked as the league favorites when the Preseason Coaches Poll was released in mid-August, but after running a difficult slate in 2009, Belmont jumped ETSU in the final regular season poll. The Bruins edged out the Bucs by eight points.
ETSU and Belmont have raced against each other twice this season, with the Bruins coming out on top both times. However, the Bucs have experience racing on the 8K course in DeLand, Fla., as ETSU won the Hatter Invitational two weeks ago.
Overall, ETSU will be led by senior and reigning Atlantic Sun Runner of the Year Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya). Rotich is coming off a first-place finish at the Hatter Invitational and won his conference record seventh Runner of the Week award back on Oct. 19. Rotich and cousin Ben Ronoh (Sotik, Kenya) both went first and second at last year's conference championship - where ETSU defeated Belmont's six-year run by six points - 29 to 35. A win by the Bucs on Saturday would also mark the first time ETSU has claimed back-to-back cross country championships since 1991-92.
Joining Rotich and Ronoh up front for the Bucs will be red-shirt senior J Penny (Jonesborough, Tenn.) Penny finished sixth down in Florida two weeks ago and hopes to come away with all-conference honors for the second straight season. Should ETSU come back with its second consecutive A-Sun championship, the Bucs will need strong efforts from freshman Landon Milhorn (The Woodlands, Texas) and junior Manny Gonzalez (Bryan, Ohio). Milhorn is currently ETSU's number four guy, while Gonzalez - who finished 20th at last season's conference championships - is running in the fifth slot.
Meanwhile, on the women's side, Belmont has dominated the Atlantic Sun Championships, winning seven times in its first eight years in the league. The Bruins debuted with four straight titles (2001-04). Following a second-place showing in 2005, the Bruins have taken each of the last three titles.
The Lady Bucs will look for newcomer Caitlyn Epps (Cookeville, Tenn.) to guide them across the line in Saturday's 5K race, as she has been the number one runner in 2009. Joining Epps is junior Terra Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.). Haggard is the most experience ETSU women's cross country runner; while sophomore Victoria Jones (Marshall, N.C.) and junior Hannah Audia (Pennington Gap, Va.) are making their second consecutive appearance at the A-Sun Championships on Saturday.
The women begin the morning with their 5K run at 8:45 a.m., followed by the men's 8K race at 9:45 a.m.
Stay tuned to ETSUBucs.com for more news following the Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championships and all other Buccaneer athletic news.