CROSS COUNTRY: Runners try to extend season

Josh Buckman

This Saturday Western’s cross country teams will try to do something no Topper team has done since 1980: qualify the entire team for the NCAA Championships.

In order to automatically qualify for the championships, the Hilltoppers need to finish in the top two of more than 30 teams from the Southeast.

However, even if Western is unable to finish in the top two, it could still receive one of 13 at-large bids from the NCAA. Receiving an at-large bid is not unusual, as District III is one of the top districts in the nation.

“It has been and still is one of the most demanding districts in the country,” coach Curtiss Long said. “So our teams that advance out of our district will usually score in the top 20 in the country.”

Since both the men’s and women’s teams have won the Sun Belt Conference Championships already this season, both feel confident heading into this weekend’s meet.

“We’ve got a good chance to definitely be top 10, and depending on how we run, finish in the top five,” said junior Daniel Roberts, who won the Sun Belt Conference individual title. “That would be a big accomplishment.”

Individual runners can also qualify for the championships if they are one of the top four finishers from a team that failed to qualify.

Senior Bonita Paul should be a leading competitor for a spot in the championships. Paul has had a solid season as the team’s leading runner. On Nov. 8 she won the Sun Belt Conference individual title by 1 minute, 5.54 seconds over Louisiana-Lafayette’s Natalie Gillis.

The team will also hope to have sophomore Cheyenne Carmack back healthy after being slowed by asthma.

“Conference was a little bit rough,” Carmack said. “I wasn’t sure I was going to run or not the Friday before. Hopefully I can come back and run well.”

The men’s team hopes Enda Grandfield will be able to return to his usual form after being plagued most of the season with injuries and illness.

And the Hilltoppers will have to adjust to a 10,000-meter course instead of the usual 8,000-meter.

“Even though the guys ran the 10k, it still is a shock to the system, and you have to run an extra mile and a quarter,” Grandfield said. “So it pretty much means you have to not go out conservative, but you have to go out with a little above conservative.”

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