JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Aug. 12, 2008) - With the 2008 cross country season lurking, head coach David Walker and his staff released its schedule and provided an outlook of this upcoming campaign on Tuesday afternoon.
The Buccaneer men's squad is coming of a strong season from a year ago and with three all-conference runners returning in 2008, Walker knows this could be the year ETSU claims its first cross country crown since joining the Atlantic Sun Conference.
"Overall we are a solid team and our guys know they are going to have to work hard in order to win the conference," added Walker, who is also looking for his first title since the Bucs won the SoCon crown in 1996. "The season is so quick. As long as the guys are willing to make some sacrifices and be dedicated then we will be one of the teams pushing Belmont at the top."
One of the reasons for ETSU's most recent success can be found in the one-two punch of Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya) and Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.).
Rotich made history for the Buccaneers last year as he became the first ETSU runner and only the second student-athlete in Atlantic Sun history to be tabbed Runner of the Week three times in one season. The rising junior built an impressive resume in the fall of '07 as he guided Walker's group to a pair of team titles as well as two individual crowns. Rotich was one of three ETSU runners to receive all-conference honors at the A-Sun Championships after placing seventh overall.
Crane, another all-conference selection, was the first Buccaneer to cross the finish line at the A-Sun Championships, last October. The Taylors, S.C. native just missed clipping Belmont's Magut Kipkosgei for the individual conference title. Kipkosgei won the race with a time of 25:10; while Crane crossed the line in 25:16.
"Kenneth and Jeff are two of our top runners," added Walker. "They are both very talented athletes, whereas, Crane has more speed than anyone on the team."
Joining Rotich and Crane will be senior Michael Deren (Blasdell, N.Y.) and redshirt junior J Penny (Telford, Tenn.). Deren, who entered the 2007 season on a high note after posting his best season as a sophomore in 2006, finished right behind Crane for third at the conference meet and also received Atlantic Sun All-Conference accolades. The Blasdell, N.Y. native can expect to find himself right in the pack, while Penny's work ethic benefits the Bucs at the number four-or-five positions.
"Both Deren and Penny are valuable parts to our team and need to contribute if we want to win conference," stated Walker. "If healthy, Deren can be one of the leaders of the pack, and Penny will give you everything he has at any given meet."
Battling Penny for the number five spot is sophomore Manny Gonzalez (Bryan, Ohio). Gonzalez joined the Bucs a year ago and with one season under his belt he hopes to step in and push Penny for the anchor position.
One addition to ETSU's squad, which will also benefit the Bucs, is Rotich's cousin Ben Ronoh (Nairobi, Kenya). Ronoh joins Walker's team after spending his freshman season down the road at Milligan and can provide some more strength up front for ETSU this fall.
On the women's side, the Bucs return three athletes from a year ago and also bring in a trio of new faces to the cross country squad.
Leading ETSU up front this fall includes the twins of Terra and Tesha Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.), along with newcomer Tori Jones (Marshall, N.C.). The Haggard's continued to show improvements during the year in '07 and coach Walker hopes the sisters make more advancements this season. Jones was an all-conference and all-state runner at Madison High School and enters ETSU as a Roan Scholar.
"We expect Terra and Tesha to improve on their freshman season and lead the Bucs," said Walker. "Our staff is also excited with the addition of Tori (Jones). She will be counted on to step in, make an immediate impact and can compliment the Haggard's up front."
Joining the new faces of the 2008 Buccaneer cross country team include junior transfer Jennifer Ely (Dryden, Va.) and Melissa Murrell (Knoxville, Tenn.). Ely spent the past two seasons running cross country at Lincoln Memorial where she was one of the top athletes for the Railsplitters. The Dryden, Va. native was a 2008 Preseason All-South Atlantic Conference Second Team selection and was the catalyst for LMU last fall. Murrell is familiar with the ETSU cross country coaching staff as she was a member of the Buccaneer track and field team in 2007-08. This all-around athlete looks to give the Bucs a lift at the number four spot this fall. Rounding out the field for ETSU is sophomore Rochelle Crook (Cookeville, Tenn.). Crook joined the women's cross country team in late September, but was consistent as she competed in the remaining three races. Her best performance came at the Greater Louisville Classic where she finished the 5K race is 21:36.
"As a team we are looking to improve on our finish a year ago at the conference championship, and begin moving our way towards the top of the league," added Walker. "Hopefully we will grow from last year and with the addition of three new runners we can achieve our goal."
A Look at the Schedule
For the second straight year the Bucs open the season when they head over to Blacksburg, Va. and compete in the Virginia Tech Invitational on Sept. 5. Crane enjoyed this course last season by placing second overall in the season opener. From there, some ETSU runners will tune up at a course nearby when they compete in the Irish Brigade 5K run in Elizabethton (Sept. 7). A week after the Va. Tech meet, the Buccaneer men's team hopes to make it back-to-back titles in Rock Hill, S.C. when ETSU showcases its talent at the Winthrop/Asics Invitational on Sept. 13.
After having a week off to rest the Bucs will be back in action when they catch a sneak peak of the conference championship course in Macon, Ga. as Mercer hosts its invitational on Sept. 27. The first weekend in October challenges ETSU as they head up to Louisville and partake in one of the most difficult meets in the region. The Bucs will run in the 7th Annual Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic on Oct. 4, and look to carry that momentum into Furman the following weekend - where Rotich and company claimed the title in 2007. By this point in the season Walker's crew looks to preview the Division I National course on Oct. 18 when the Bucs travel to Terre Haute, Ind. for the Indiana State Pre-National meet.
Coming off a two week resting period ETSU heads back down to Macon in search of an Atlantic Sun Conference crown on the first Saturday in November. Hopefully by being tested on the course earlier in the season the Buccaneers use the experiences to their advantage and end Belmont's reign of champions.
"This is a very difficult schedule and our teams will be tested," added Walker. "However, if we can stay healthy and continue to make strides during the campaign we should be in good shape heading into the final stretch of the season."
For more information on Buccaneer cross country, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.