COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Tech cross country teams head to Alabama Saturday to compete in the 2012 Ohio Valley Conference Championships. The meet will be held at Oxford Lake Park in Oxford, Ala., and is hosted by Jacksonville State.
The day's schedule begins with a women's 5K race at 9:15 a.m., with the men's 8K contest planned for a 10 a.m. starting gun.
It marks the first time that Jacksonville State University has hosted the meet since the Gamecocks joined the Conference prior to the 2003 season. The meet is free and open to the public.
Golden Eagle coach Tony Cox has his lineups set for the meet, with eight men and eight women scheduled to compete.
Two different runners have set the pace for the Tech women's team this year, with senior Beth Mitchell leading her team in three of the five meets and junior Rebecca Cline pacing the Golden Eagles in the other two. Each has finished second in every race that she wasn't the team's leader, and they are expected to play those same leadership roles on Saturday.
Also running for Tech will be Meghan O'Donoghue, who has finished third on the team in four of the five races. Joining that threesome will be Kathryn Forbes, Landry Loving, Elizabeth Mitchell and Peri Winborne. Forbes and Mitchell have each posted their career-best times this season. Loving placed third on the team in the most recent meet, the Berry College Invitational.
Three different runners have led the Tech men's team this year in its five meets. Matt Bishop was the TTU pacesetter in each of the first two meets, Michael Mahan led in the next two, and Sterling Smith was the top placer in the Berry meet. One other runner who has consistenly been among the top three has been Adam McLeod.
Joining that threesome in Tech's lineup Saturday will be Kolbe Andrzejewski, Daniel Francis, Charlie Jordan and Matt Pennycuff. Andrzejewski, Francis, Mahan, McLeod and Smith have all raced to their career-best 8K times this year.
This will be the 51st OVC men’s championship, as the first one was held in 1962. Eastern Kentucky has won the most OVC Championships (20), including the last six in a row and seven of the last eight. EKU has had the individual champion in each of the last eight years.
The women’s championship will be determined for the 34th time this year. Eastern Kentucky has won 25 of the previous 33 championships, although Eastern Illinois enters the meet as the defending champion. EKU has had the individual winner each of the last three years.
This year’s meet includes 12 teams for the first time, as SIUE is postseason eligible for the first time and Belmont is in its first year in the league.
The OVC Athletes and Freshmen of the Year, which are determined by coaches vote, will be announced on Friday and awarded along with Coach of the Year, Athletes of the Championship and All-OVC honors following Saturday’s Championship.
Eastern Kentucky, the six-time defending champion, enters Saturday’s race as the favorites as they enter the meet ranked No. 13 nationally in the USTFCCCA poll. That marks the highest-ranking in school history for the program that finished 26th at NCAA Championship a season ago. The Colonels have competed at several of the top meets in the country this season, including most recently the Wisconsin adidas® Invitational where the team finished ninth out of a competitive 45-team field. The squad also won meets at Memphis and Vanderbilt and finished fifth at Notre Dame. Junior Soufiane Bouchikhi, the two-time defending OVC Champion, was 13th overall at the Wisconsin meet, but for the first time in his career was not the top EKU finisher in a race; Bouchikhi finished three spots behind sophomore Ben Toroitich who ran the fastest 8K time in the OVC this season (23:36.0) to finish 10th.
Eastern Illinois has finished as runner-up at the OVC Championship in two of the last three years and enters the meet ranked 15th in the Midwest Region. Sophomore Bryce Basting finished 11th at the OVC Championship as a freshman and was named OVC Runner of the Week on Sept. 18 after his performance at the Illinois Intercollegiate. In his last race he ran the fifth-fastest 8K time in the OVC this season (24:23.00) at the Bradley Classic.
Southeast Missouri finished as the meet runner-up in 2008 and 2010 and was third a season ago. Junior Brent Collins placed 10th at the OVC Championship last season and owns the top 6K time in the OVC this season (19:28.4). Senior Nate Shipley is looking to lockup his third-straight Top 10 finish at the OVC Championship as he was ninth in 2010 and third a season ago.
Host Jacksonville State recorded its best OVC Championship finish in 2007, the only time the meet has been held in the state of Alabama (Samford hosted in Hoover that year). Senior Matt Brick earned a pair of OVC Runner of the Week honors this season for the Gamecocks.
Although not currently in the regional rankings, Belmont has been regionally-ranked this season as it prepares for its first OVC Championship. In its tune-up meet for this weekend’s championship, the Bruins were seventh at the Blue Ridge Open hosted by Appalachian State.
Austin Peay senior Konnor Kessler has been the Governors top finisher in every meet this season including posting the fifth-best 5K time (16:17.35) in the league this season at the Front Runner Invitational two weeks ago.
Morehead State has made strides under second-year head coach Brent Ericksen including winning the Fast Cats Classic in Owensboro, Ky. two weeks ago. Junior newcomer Zachariah Elliott led the Eagles in that meet and has been MSU’s top finisher in each race this season. Overall Morehead State has placed fourth at the Championship each of the last two years.
A young Murray State squad has been paced by freshmen Lucas Prather and Jared Koerner this season. Overall the MSU roster includes six freshmen and three sophomores.
After completing its reclassification to Division I, SIUE will compete in its first OVC Championship this weekend. The Cougars have been paced by senior Aaron Werths this season; Werths took first place at the SIUE John Flamer Invite two weeks ago and ran a competitive time at the Greater Louisville Classic earlier this season. Freshman Clint Kliem has also been solid for SIUE this season.
For the first time in six OVC Championships Tennessee State did not finish at the bottom of the pack a season ago. The Flying Tigers look to continue its improvement on Saturday with a roster that includes sophomore Adrian McDaniel who led the team at the Front Runner Invitational two weeks ago.
Tennessee Tech has finished seventh at the OVC Championship in each of the past two seasons. The Golden Eagles were led by freshman Sterling Smith’s 12th place finish at the Berry College Viking Open two weeks ago.
A year ago UT Martin placed fifth at the OVC Championship, marking the program’s highest finish since joining the league in 1992. This season the Skyhawks will look to improve on that finish with senior Tallon Scott and freshman Justin Morgan, who have been the team’s most consistent runners this year.
By placing four runners in the Top 11 last season Eastern Illinois claimed its second overall OVC Championship and first since the 2001 season. The Panthers return four of its top five finishers from a season ago including senior Olivia Klaus who is looking to lock up her fourth-straight All-OVC selection this season. Klaus was eighth as a freshman in 2009, fourth in 2010 and fifth a season ago; this season she owns the third-best 6K time (21:35.00) time in the OVC, a mark that stands as the EIU program record. Senior Erika Ramos was the Panthers top finisher at the meet last year, placing fourth overall, while senior Britney Whitehead holds some of the top 5K and 6K times in the league in 2012.
Despite having two of the top three finishers a year ago (including senior Lydia Kosgei who qualified for the NCAA Championship) Eastern Kentucky missed out on winning its sixth-straight OVC Championship. Although currently not regionally-ranked, EKU has been in the rankings this season and has competed against some of the top competition in the country. Sophomore Ann Eason, who was ninth at the Championship last year, holds the top 5K (17:37.26) and 6K (21:26.10) time in the OVC this season. The team also features freshmen Viivi Rantanen and Julia van Velthoven who look to contend.
Belmont enters its first OVC Championship ranked 14th in the Southeast Region. Sophomore Mia Elbon has earned a pair of OVC Runner of the Week honors this season and has the third-best 5K (17:42.59) and second-best 6K (21:34.52) in the Conference in 2012. A year ago she was named Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year.
Southeast Missouri is looking to improve on its third-place finish from a season ago. The Redhawks have been paced by sophomore Rebekah Lawson this season. Lawson earned OVC Runner of the Week honors on Sept. 18 and warmed-up for the OVC Championship by placing 29th in the Black Race at the NCAA Pre-Nationals two weeks ago in Louisville.
Murray State has been a contender for the OVC Championship in each of the past four years. Freshman Abigail Ashbee-Simmonds has performed well this year leading the Racers in three different meets. Junior Carolyne Tanui led the team at the Notre Dame Classic earlier this season, placing 10th in the Gold Race where MSU placed sixth as a team.
Jacksonville State is looking to become the first host to win the OVC women’s championship since 1990 when EKU hosted and won the event. Senior Kailey Jensen earned OVC Runner of the Week honors earlier this season and was the team’s top finisher two weeks ago at the Alabama Crimson Classic.
Junior Xiamar Richards led Austin Peay a season ago at the OVC Championship, placing 10th overall and earning second-team All-OVC honors. Three weeks ago she won OVC Runner of the Week honors after taking first place out of 87 runners at the JSU Foothills Invitational, which was held on the same course the OVC Championship will be contested on.
Morehead State prepared for the OVC Championship by running some of the top times in school history two weeks ago at the Fast Cats Classic. Seniors Anya Martinez and Holly Mandzak each recorded Top 10 program times in the 5K, with Martinez putting up the fifth-best time (18:12.90) in school history and Mandzak running the ninth-best time (18:39.90).
Although a member of the OVC since 2008, SIUE just finished its reclassification effort to Division I this past August and will be competing in its first OVC Championship this weekend. Junior Claire Brown and freshman Kirby Hale have been two of the squad’s top runners this season. Hale took first place at the team’s John Flamer Invitational two weeks ago.
Tennessee State will look to redshirt freshman Oteia Prince to lead its squad this weekend. Prince had a strong effort at the Front Runner Invitational two weeks ago, placing sixth among OVC runners (20th overall) with a 2-mile time of 12:27.01.
Tennessee Tech has consistently been paced by senior Beth Miller and junior Rebecca Cline in its meets this season. Cline was the team’s top finisher at the OVC Championship a season ago.
Senior Amanda Wardlaw has been one of UT Martin’s top runners this season. She along with junior Hannah Wolters, who was 21st at the OVC Championship a season ago, will look to lead the Skyhawks this weekend.