CROSS COUNTRY: Western finishes eighth, 13th at Auburn

Josh Buckman

Sloppy tracks, rainy weather and crowded starting lines could not stop over 30 cross country teams, including Western, from racing in the Auburn Invitational Friday.

Senior Bonita Paul bounced back, after missing the Arkansas-Little Rock Invitational 13 days earlier due to a sinus infection, to finish seventh (18 minutes, 22.46 seconds) in a field of 267.

Junior Cara Nichols, who also returned after missing the last meet with flu-like symptoms, finished 23rd in 18:50.49.

Freshman Nicole Jaggers finished 55th with a time of 19:31.60.

Besides dealing with the rain, the crowded field made it difficult to get off to a good start.

“It was a smaller starting area, so you only got two or three people on the front row,” coach Curtiss Long said. “If those people didn’t get out or if they didn’t follow you closely, then a large number of people would be ahead of you at the end of 100 yards no matter what you tried to do.”

Mississippi State won the 32-team meet with a score 107. The Bulldogs won the meet largely because of the efforts of Tiffany McWilliams, who Long believes is the best runner in the country.

Indiana was second with 111 points. Auburn grabbed the third spot scoring 116 points.

The Lady Toppers edged out Tulane 235-238 for eighth.

The men’s team was dealt a blow early on when lead runner Enda Grandfield was unable to finish the race. He dropped out after the first mile.

“Usually I get out really quick and I’m up near the front when I’m racing well, but I was struggling all the way,” Grandfield said. “I went through the mile, and I was hurting quite a bit then. I was breathing hard, generally not feeling good.”

Grandfield’s problems can be traced back to Oct. 6 when he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. He suffered three cracked ribs, putting the rest of his season in jeopardy. Sunday, he filed a police report.

Junior David Altmaier was the Hilltoppers’ highest finisher. He was 15th in 25:38.18. Junior Daniel Roberts was close behind, finishing 17th in 25:40.96.

“I think it adds more pressure on everybody when you see your top runner go down,” Roberts said. “I think everybody knows they have to step up, pick it up a notch and try to pick up as many places as they can because of his low score.”

The team finished 13th of 29 teams with 336 points. Western also finished 300 points ahead of Sun Belt Conference rival South Alabama.

On Saturday the Hilltoppers will head to Fayetteville, Ark., for the Chile Pepper Invitational. The meet will be the last meet of the season before the Sun Belt Conference Championships Nov. 1 in Bowling Green.

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]