Spartanburg, S.C. – The USC Upstate men's and women's cross country teams will open the 2013 season at the Covered Bridge Open hosted by Appalachian State Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. in Boone, N.C.
Upstate's men's team is coming off back-to-back A-Sun championships, but will use the early part of the season as a barometer to measure where the team is and what it needs to do to get better as it gets closer to run at the conference championship. The Spartans graduated four of their top five runners from last season and expect the young team to adjust to college competition each time out.
"Experience, more than anything, will help the freshman make the transition to running in college," said associate head coach and two-time A-Sun Coach of the Year Carson Blackwelder. "It will be interesting to see how the freshmen handle running in an 8k. Most haven't run that distance and how they handle that will be a key to our success. Realistically, we will set our goals midseason after we see where we are here at the beginning of the year."
Ross Oden, a junior from Salisbury, N.C., is the leading returning runner from last season and is expected to lead the squad this year. He will be joined by fellow returnees Riley Doherty (Jr., Tallahassee, Fla.) and Mark Rennix (Jr., Beaufort, S.C.) as key runners. Andrew Kipchumba (Eldoret, Kenya) is another experienced returnee who is expected to heavily contribute, but will miss the Covered Bridge Open with a pulled groin.
The women's team will still be young with a large contingent of sophomores. However, the team is experienced with the majority of the squad returning from last year's team that made strides throughout the season. The biggest key to the success of the team is how much the returning runners learned from competition last year and how they progress this season.
"We are looking for the women's team to be more competitive and compete better than we did last year," said Blackwelder. "They have a grasp on things now. It was a learning curve for them last year and I'm looking for them to have made the adjustments in gaining experience to get better."
Jasmine Polite (Jr., Goose Creek, S.C.) and Anastasia Kolesnitchenko (So, Boiling Springs, S.C.) are the top two returning runners from last year's squad and are expected to lead the team again this season. Erin gethin (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) and Hannah Chaney (Brunswick, Ohio) are also anticipated to battle at the top of the lineup. Behind those four runners is a slew of Spartans with relative equal ability that should bolster the lineup. Newcomers Janay Chisolm (Fr., Columbia, S.C.) and Sarah Hetzel (So., Greenville, S.C.) are expected to contribute immediately.
The Covered Bridge Open will have solid teams in the six-team field. In addition to Upstate, the field will consist of Appalachian State (host), VMI, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington and a Florida State program which finished fifth on the men's side and fourth on the women's side at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
"This race features some pretty good competition," said Blackwelder. "It is important for us to get a race under our belts, getting our runners in a routine at this level of competition early in the season."The 2013 A-Sun Championships will be run on Nov. 2 and hosted by Lipscomb in Nashville, Tenn. The Upstate men's team was picked to finish fifth this season after winning the last two team championships. The Spartan women were picked to finish ninth in the A-Sun by the league's coaches. Following the Covered Bridge Open, Upstate will host the Eye Opener next weekend at the Milliken Research Center adjacent to campus. The college meet will start at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, while the high school portion of the meet will be run Saturday.