In what will be a precursor to the Sun Belt Conference Championships in November, Western is welcoming two conference schools to town this weekend.
Seven teams will challenge Western’s cross country teams this Saturday at the 22nd annual Old Timers Classic in Kereiakes Park.
Though score will not be kept, the race will be an early opportunity for Sun Belt Conference members Middle Tennessee and Florida International to see the course that will be used for the SBC Championships in November.
On the men’s side, the Hilltoppers will look to continue their early success. The team finished second at the Belmont Invitational earlier this month. Many team members believe this is the best team this group of athletes has ever fielded.
“The guys have been running excellent,” senior Chris Young said. “I’m so proud of our team. Just being an upperclassman and watching people develop is very significant. It means a lot.”
However, Western may have to go into these races without the services of runners Enda Grandfield and Kevin Dick.
Grandfield is suffering from seasonal allergies that have kept him out of four practices in the last week. He will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis to see if he can run this weekend.
“I would really like to run,” Grandfield said. “Our team is really running well, and it would be nice to run at home.”
Grandfield is hoping to build on his second place finish at Belmont.
Last weekend Dick ran a 101 degree fever but bounced back, having two consecutive practice sessions that impressed runners and coaches. He is expected to compete this weekend.
Though illness may sideline some runners, the team still believes it has the home field advantage.
“We know the course better than anyone else who will be here,” Young said. “We train on it every Monday and Wednesday, and because we’re home we’ll have a lot of people supporting us.”
Coach Curtiss Long said the Hilltoppers will also see some tough competition from the Southeastern and Ohio Valley Conferences.
“Kentucky had several of their guys running in the NCAA Track and Field Championships,” Long said. “Eastern Kentucky has traditionally dominated the OVC.”
The women’s race was originally going to be five kilometers, but at FIU’s request it was extended to six.
The Golden Panthers wanted to get an early look at the field that will host the SBC Championships, but would only agree to come if the course was identical to the one that will host Sun Belt. The Sun Belt course is required to be six kilometers.
The Lady Toppers hope running a longer race will help them. They finished a disappointing third on the two-mile course at Belmont.
“It was just the first race, and people have to get into the racing motion again,” senior Bonita Paul said. “We had one race and our bodies are now into running again.”
The women’s race begins at 10 a.m., and the men start at 11 a.m.
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