C-N Cross Country Teams Open Season on Saturday at Eye Opener Meet
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — It's a team sport with an individual focus and since 2001, when coach Whitney Lee took over the program, the Carson-Newman College Cross Country team has been climbing up the South Atlantic Conference and NCAA Division II Regional rankings.
Last season, the Lady Eagles broke through, finishing second in the SAC Championship.
"We felt like if we weren't going to win it, we could have been in that second slot last year," Lee said. "Lenoir-Rhyne was pretty strong and we knew it was going to come down to us or them."
The C-N men were nearly as impressive, taking fifth place in the SAC. Both teams finished in the Top 20 at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championship, with the women taking 14th place and the men finishing 19th.
For senior Melissa Ford (Richmond, Va.), the taste of success last year has pushed her all through the offseason.
"Working on your own, it's a mental game," Ford said. "It's important to train all summer and do a lot of hill and road work. You can already tell through practices people are really dedicated and working hard. I feel like we've really stepped it up this year."
On the men's side, senior Jonathan Madden (Franklin, Tenn.) has been equally diligent in his work between seasons. The SAC preseason coaches poll predicted the Eagle men to finish sixth. Madden feels his team is better than that.
"My focus is to build off of last season and be the best team member I can be," Madden said. "This is probably the strongest group of guys since I've been here. These guys want to be better than sixth and run together as a team."
Lee needed Ford and Madden to
The Eagles teams have a strong group of incoming freshmen, including Amanda Bowman (Greeneville, Tenn.), Ashley Matthews (Sanford, N.C.), Tyler Moore (Arab, Ala.) Joey Nielson (Ringgold, Ga.) and Abanzer Tsegaye (Nashville, Tenn.). Last season's freshmen were a strength of the team, with Brooke Earhart (Dickson, Tenn.) and Meredith Nix (Walhalla, S.C.) joining Ford on the preseason All-SAC team.
Last season Carson-Newman made the most of its ability in SAC Championships. This year, they want to take the next step.
"We had the feeling that with the talent we had, we ran our best race that day," Lee said. "We're going to be tested this year. I feel like we can hang around in that five-six-seven spot this year. It's tough to put all the focus on that one day and week-by-week compete. We want to run our best in the last two meets of the year."
Carson-Newman Cross Country opens its season Saturday in Spartanburg, S.C. at the Eye Opener meet hosted by the Milliken Research Center.