Women's Cross Country Aiming for Three-Peat in 2012August 13, 2012
ANDERSON, S.C. – After winning its second consecutive Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Championship last October, the Anderson University women’s cross country team will be looking to make its mark in league history this season.
No South Atlantic Conference team has claimed three straight championships since Mars Hill put a stranglehold on the title with five consecutive SAC crowns in the late nineties, while Carson-Newman notched three championships earlier in that decade. In its debut in the SAC, Anderson snapped Lenoir-Rhyne’s two-year win streak with the Trojans’ first league title in 2010.
If AU head coach Randy Greer, the two-time SAC Coach of the Year, is to guide his squad to a successful encore, the Trojans will need to find a way to replace former standout and current assistant coach Whitney Bishoff. The Winder, Ga. native posted a phenomenal career during her time at Anderson, earning Conference Runner of the Year in both the South Atlantic Conference and Conference Carolinas, while capturing the individual title at the league championships and made two consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, earning All-America status in 2009 and holding numerous school records.
“It will be a completely different year without Whitney up front,” said Greer. “There will be a different feel to the team. We’ll be more of a pack-oriented team this year. We can do well at the conference level and we do have a shot at the conference championship. I believe we can be one of the top three teams – it’s just a matter of how we match up and how we do on that particular day. It will be a challenge to finish as high at the regional level. ”
Every returning Trojan runner posted a top-25 finish in last year’s league championship, with junior Hannah Robles leading the group with a ninth-place finish, while also garnering second-team all-conference honors. Senior Amanda Mahaffey, who crossed the line in 14th was also named Second-Team All-SAC. Sophomore Sydney Hazel was named to the conference All-Freshman team after finishing 15th, while senior Emily Eckroth crossed the line in the 20th spot and junior Rachel Westberry finished 25th a year ago.
“We’re going to have a group of girls that have won two conference championships and with the exception of Whitney, they’re all still together,” added Greer. “We have a very experienced team.”
Anderson begins the 2012 slate at USC Upstate’s Eye Opener on Aug. 31, after posting a seventh-place team finish at the event each of the past two seasons. The field at last season’s opener consisted of eight NCAA Division I schools, with AU topping the D-II schools competing on the Roger Milliken Research Park course. Eckroth crossed the line in 45th, while Robles and Westberry finished 53rd and 74th, respectively in AU’s opener.
“The Eye Opener will be an early test for us,” said Greer. “There are usually a lot of teams out of our region that compete at that meet, so it’s a good early season benchmark to see were where we are and what we need to do to get to where we want to be.”
Two weeks later the Trojans travel to Rock Hill, S.C. to compete in the Winthrop Invitational and have another two-week layoff before visiting UNC Charlotte, where they claimed 21st last year in a field populated with 17 D-I schools.
Then-freshman Sydney Hazel led the returners in the event, followed by Robles, while Eckroth, Mahaffey and Westberry rounded out the Anderson contingent last year.
“Winthrop and especially Charlotte will probably both have a lot of teams from both our conference and the Southeast Region,” added Greer. “It will be an opportunity for us to get on faster courses. The NCAA Regionals will be held in Charlotte, so it will almost be like a pre-regional race. Those will be nice tests to again see where we are and provide good comparisons for where we are at that point of the season.”
AU opens the month of October at Furman, where the Trojans posted a fifth-place finish in 2011, with Bishoff winning the event en route to setting a new course record. A trio of Trojans finished in a pack, as Mahaffey, Robles and Hazel claimed 36th, 37th and 38th respectively. Eckroth crossed the line in 47th and Westberry earned 55th.
“Furman will be a harder course,” noted Greer. “It may be the hardest we’ll be on all year and will be a good test for us. We come off that and head to Queens – and Charlotte again – where we’ll get one last look at the regional course.”
Anderson closes out the regular season at Queens, where the Trojans finished 13th two years ago, then enters the SAC Championships eying their third title in as many years.
“Hopefully by that point we have all the bumps ironed out and we’ll be ready to go.” Greer concluded. “I think we can do well.”