NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct, 26, 2007) - The ETSU men's and women's cross country teams are making its final preparations for the Atlantic Sun Championships Friday from Vaughn's Creek Cross Country Course in Nashville. The meet kicks off Saturday morning with the women running at 10 a.m. and the men following at 11.
"The men have been strong in practice and everyone is healthy," added head ETSU men's cross country coach David Walker. "It is going to take a collective effort of our five runners, and all five of them will have to stay close in order to put together a winning performance. Belmont is the team to beat, but we are not taking anyone for granted. This is one of the deepest fields in recent history and any team can win the title on a given day."
Staying focused and running tough is going to be the number one priority if Walker's squad looks to win its first A-Sun title.
"Our guys know what it is going to take if they want to win the championship," added Walker. "We have run strong all season, but in order to be the best you have to stay focused and relaxed."
For the entire season the Bucs have climbed up the Atlantic Sun coach's poll, as they began the campaign in third behind Belmont and Kennesaw State. However, after a strong regular season showing ETSU has climbed past the Owls for second and has been putting pressure on the Bruins. The Bucs finished Wednesday's final poll in second, but received three first-place votes and only nine votes shy of tying Belmont for the top spot.
"We have improved all season, but the conference rankings have been true to form," commented Walker. "Our guys know they can win this title, but there are a lot of other teams that can take care of business as well."
One of the explanations to ETSU's 2007 success deals with sophomore Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya). Rotich has been the number one guy for Walker's squad this season. The sophomore sensation has won two individual titles, three conference Runner of the Week awards, and holds the fastest 8K time in the Atlantic Sun this season. Rotich posted a mark of 24:32 last month at the Greater Louisville Classic, and this time has held onto the number one slot from that point on. Belmont's Kipkosgei Magut, last year's conference champion, lingers two seconds behind Rotich for the second spot in the A-Sun.
"Rotich will need to take it to another level if he wants to become the individual conference champion," said Walker. "He has the skills to take home the title, but there are a lot of strong competitors who will also be breathing down his neck for the crown."
The Bucs have more than one option to lead the pack as juniors Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) and Michael Deren (Blasdell, N.Y.) will look to keep pace with Rotich up front. Deren finished ninth at the 2006 conference meet, while Crane was right behind him in 12th; however, Crane holds the third fastest 8K mark in the A-sun at 24:37 and Deren ranks seventh at 24:55.
"Rotich, Crane, and Deren have posted top results this season and any of them can win this race," added Walker.
Senior Jordan Ladd (Lyn, Ontario) and junior J Penny (Telford, Tenn.) will also be important factors to the Bucs' success Saturday. Ladd posted a five minute twenty-eight second mile last season at the conference championship and holds the ninth fastest 8K time in the league this season. He posted a season-best time of 25:06 at the Greater Louisville Classic back on Sept. 29. Penny was named to the conference all-freshman team last season, finishing 25th overall. Rounding things out for ETSU will be Josh Jaynes (Elizabethton, Tenn.), as he heads back to the site where he won the 2006 high state school championship.
The ETSU men's team is looking to make history as the Buccaneers hope to have conference titles in the Ohio Valley, SoCon, and Atlantic Sun. Should the Bucs claim the 2007 Atlantic Sun cross country championship Saturday, it would end Belmont's five-year run as team champs and mark ETSU's first team title since 1996. The Bucs are also looking for their first individual conference champion since Derek Murphy brought the SoCon crown back to Johnson City in 1995.
On the women's side, the Lady Buccaneers have been practicing well and training hard for the meet.
"Our girls have been improving on their times all season, and we are hoping to do the same Saturday, added head ETSU women's cross country coach Michelle Byrne. "The girls are training well and their workouts have been solid all week."
Looking to guide the Buccaneer pack will be sophomore Vicki Currie (Dumfries, Scotland). The Scottish sensation has led the ETSU women across the finish line in its final three meets, and is one of two Buccaneer runners with conference championship experience.
"Currie has been our leader all season and I am excited to see her test herself against conference competition," added Byrne.
Freshmen twins Terra and Tesha Haggard (Morristown, Tenn) have given ETSU a huge lift during their rookie campaign. The Haggard's have been unanimously the number two and three runners for the Bucs, and will look to improve on their young ETSU careers Saturday.
Sophomore Christin Zink (Herndon, Va.), the only other ETSU runner with experience at the conference meet, has improved immensely from her freshman season. Zink has chipped away at her times all season, and has been working hard for a powerful run at Saturdays meet. The Herndon, Va. native has almost knocked off an entire two minutes off her time from her first meet of the season back in early September.
"Zink has been the most improved runner since arriving here," mentioned Byrne. "She has the opportunity to finish the season with a lifetime best mark and I am eager to see her run."
A pair of newcomers will round out the pack of ETSU runners. Freshmen Rochelle Crook (Cookeville, Tenn.) and Ashton Bishop (Gate City, Va.) will give the Bucs much needed depth for the team. Crook will be making only her third appearance for ETSU this cross country season, while Bishop makes her Buccaneer cross country debut.
"Bishop will give us some added depth and the team a boost," said Byrne. "We are expecting her to compete and help the team if needed."
The Lady Bucs were picked 10th in the final cross country coach's poll, and will look to finish higher than that on Saturday. Belmont is picked as the favorite again in 2007, while North Florida and Kennesaw State are expected to finish among the top as well.
Please visit www.ETSUBucs.com for a full recap and results from the 2007 Atlantic Sun Championship.