By Mike Lehman, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech men's and women's cross country teams once again boast a full slate for the 2018 seasons as head coach Wayne Angel officially released the programs' schedules.
"It's a very competitive schedule," head coach Wayne Angel said. "It's also a schedule that will benefit the youth of our teams."
For the third straight year, Tech opens the season by hosting the Golden Eagle Invitational. Slated for Saturday, Sept. 8, the event will shift to Cookeville High School for the 2018 campaign.
Tech continues the brunt of its slate during the month of September, hitting the road for three more matches, beginning with a Sept. 15 trip to Nashville for the Commodore Classic. The following week, on Sept. 22, the Golden Eagles flock south for the Mt. Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Fla.
Rounding out the month is a trek north to Louisville, Ky. on Sept. 29 and the Greater Louisville Classic.
Continuing the schedule into October, Tech takes a short break before returning to action at the FSU Invitational in Tallahassee, Fla. on Friday, Oct. 12. Another week for training follows as the Golden Eagles make their final preparations for the OVC Championships. The league's annual event, hosted at Cape Girardeau, Mo. this season, is set for Saturday, Oct. 27.
Those Golden Eagle runners that qualify will take a return trip to Tallahassee on Nov. 9 for the NCAA South Regional. A quick enough time will then result in a trip to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Madison, Wis.
"On the men's side, we have everybody coming back with the exception of [Gilbert] Boit, so we have some experience," Angel commented about the outlook of the men's team. "We have to find out who is going to be that number one runner."
A total of six runners return to the men's team for 2018, including junior Brannon Cheplak, who finished second among the Golden Eagle participants in every race a season ago. While replacing Gilbert Boit, the reigning OVC Men's Athlete of the Year, will seem to be a tall task, the Tech squad will have youth on its side again.
Joshua Daugherty represents the lone senior of the bunch coming back for the fall, with every other member of the team returning for the new season as a sophomore or junior. And those runners boast some success. Last year, Cheplak gathered season-high finishes of fifth and sixth at the Mt. Dew Invitational and Golden Eagle Invitational, respectively. Sammy Kipkirui was just a small step behind in both races, finishing sixth and seventh in the two meets.
"On the women's side, of course, we have our NCAA qualifier in Purity [Sanga], but we're still building that team," Angel explained about the outlook of the women's team. "I think going into the season we can be a top-five program, if not better. It just depends on how the season unfolds."
For the women's team, just two student-athletes with collegiate experience return for the 2018 campaign with the departure of a trio of seniors in Anna Cooper, Micayla Rennick and Madison Stremler. The biggest building block for the program remains, however, with the OVC's reigning Women's Freshman of the Year, Purtiy Sanga, back for her sophomore year.
Sanga dazzled in her rookie season despite not arriving to Cookeville until after the team's first meet. It didn't seem to matter as the freshman sensation went on to lead Tech in each of its final four competitions, earning top-10 finishes in three. She went on to place sixth at the NCAA South Regional, turning in a time fast enough to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships.
After becoming the first female Golden Eagle cross country athlete to compete at the NCAA Championships, and with a strong first year in the classroom, Sanga garnered United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Academic honors.
Photos by Thomas Corhern