SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Six men and five women will lace-up their running shoes as newcomers on the USC Upstate men's and women's cross country teams this weekend as the Spartans' open the 2011 season, hosting the Eye Opener Invitational Sept. 2-3.
The Eye Opener is the biggest home meet for the Spartans this season. This a two-day event with the college meet taking place Friday at 7 p.m. and the high school portion scheduled for Saturday at 8 a.m. On the college side, there are 21 women's team and 19 men's team participating. The Eye Opener is one of the largest high school cross country meets in the state of South Carolina.
The Upstate men's cross country team welcomes six newcomers this season, including three from high school state championship teams in both South Carolina and Florida. Freshman Kenneth Human comes to Upstate from nearby Landrum High School, where he was the South Carolina 4-A State Cross Country Champion, while freshmen John Hazelton and Riley Doherty were Florida 3-A State Championship team members from Leon High School.
Human lettered in cross country, basketball and track and field at Landrum. He was a member of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Cross Country State Championship teams and a member of the 2011 Track and Field State Championship team. He was a part of the 2010 and 2011 4x800-meter Relay State Championship quartet and was named the 2009 Region Runner of the Year in track. Human posted times of 16:53 in the 5K and 4:36 in the 1,600-meter. For track, he was an All-State selection in three events.
Hazelton lettered in cross country and track at Leon in Tallahassee, Fla., and was chosen as the school's Runner of the Year in 2011. He was an All-State selection in cross country in 2008 and 2009 and was named All-Big Bend Region in cross country. Hazelton finished seventh in the Florida 3-A State Cross Country Meet, where he posted a personal-best with a time of 15:38 in the 5K. In track, he recorded a time of 1:56 in the 800-meter and a time of 4:36 in the mile.
Hazelton's high school teammate, Doherty also lettered in cross country and track at Leon. Doherty was a four-time All-Big Bend Region selection in both cross country and track. He was named the school's Runner of the Year in 2010. He finished fourth in the Florida 3-A State Cross Country Meet and was a state champion team member from 2007-2009. Doherty recorded personal-best times of 15:36 in the 5K, 9:24 in the 3,200-meter and 4:28 in the 1,600-meter.
"I really think John and Riley will be able to have an immediate impact on the men's team," said interim head cross country coach Carson Blackwelder. "Hopefully, they'll be able to be in our top seven. They're both very solid, coming from a strong high school where they received good training. Last year we had a strong top six and with these two joining the team this year, we're going to have a strong eight."
The other three incoming freshmen on the Spartan men's cross country squad include Palmetto State native Mark Rennix, Garden State native Matt Caputa and Evan Woodruff another Sunshine State native.
Rennix lettered in soccer, track and cross country at Beaufort High School and was named All-State Distance MVP in the 4x800-meter for track. He set school records in the 1,600-meter with a time of 4:33 and in the 3,200-meter with a time of 10:16. Rennix posted times of 2:01 in the 800-meter and 17:09 in the 5,000-meter.
Caputa lettered in golf, track and cross country at Haddon Heights High School and posted a personal-best with a time of 4:43 in the 1,600-meter. Caputa ran the 800-meter in 2:05 and the 5,000-meter in 17:42.
Woodruff lettered in cross country and track at Sebastian River High School. He posted times of 1:55 in the 800-meter and 17:01 in the 5K. He was named school MVP, most outstanding distance runner and most outstanding relay runner. Woodruff was also an All-Area and All-State selection in track.
"The new additions on the men's team will help the team's depth," said Blackwelder. "We're expecting a lot of the newcomers to really develop in the next few years and be solid performers for us. Overall, we have a much deeper team than we've had in the past."
On the women's side, Upstate has five newcomers that will hit the trail Friday night at the Eye Opener, including South Carolina 4-A State Cross Country Champion Jasmine Polite. Polite lettered in track and cross country at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, S.C. She was named Stratford Female Athlete of Year in 2010 and 2011 and was a three-time All-Region selection in both track and cross country.
Polite was also a three-time All-State selection in track and a two-time All-State pick in cross country. She was named the school Runner of the Year in 2010. She was the South Carolina State Cross Country Champion both 2009 and 2010 and finished third in the 2009 state track championship in the 800-meter and second in the 1,600-meter. Polite registered a personal best time of 18:18 in the 5K.
"Jasmine is a big edition to the women's team," Blackwelder said. She went to Stratford, which has a very strong cross country program here in South Carolina. She's a pretty good middle-distance and distance athlete. She's going to really help a lot this year. She has the potential to hopefully be in our top four or five this year."
Polite will be joined Friday night by fellow incoming freshmen Erin Gethin from Cocoa Beach, Fla., and Morgan Bryant from West Union, S.C. Gethin lettered in cross country, soccer and track at Viera High School. She posted a personal-best time of 20:05 in the 5K. Bryant lettered in cross country, basketball and track at Walhalla High School. She was a two-time All-Region selection in cross country and was named to the All-Region Team in track. Bryant recorded personal-best times of 2:31 in the 800-meter and 21:51 in the 5K.
"Erin and Morgan are right in the same ability range and they'll really develop this year as freshmen. Hopefully in the next year or two they'll be able to work their way into our top five or six," Blackwelder said.
The Upstate women's team also welcomes two transfers as sophomore Ashlyn Barnwell and junior Jaimie Page lace-up their sneakers this weekend. Barnwell joins the Spartans after spending a year at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., while Page comes to Upstate after years at Longview Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, Mo. Barnwell recorded a personal-best time of 20:21 in the 5K.
"Our transfer athletes this year will really add a lot of depth to the women's team; they'll really help push the others. Page will be a great training partner for Laura Transue, who will be returning for her junior year."
While at Longview, Page posted an 81st-place finish at nationals and was chosen as the school's Most Outstanding Cross Country Athlete of the Year. She recorded personal-best times of 2:22 in the 800-meter and 20:15 in the 5K. Page was also an Academic All-American selection.
"Overall as a women's team we're a lot deeper than we've ever been with being able to have nine girls that can run around 20 minutes; that's about as deep as we've ever been," said Blackwelder. "This year's team has the potential to be the best team that, I think, Upstate has ever seen."
The college portion of Eye Opener Invitational is Friday, Sept. 2 with the women's race starting at 7 p.m. and then men's scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Follow the Spartans this season on Facebook and Twitter.