Augusta, GA – Following one of the most
competitive regular seasons the conference has seen, several teams
are in position to win the Peach Belt Conference Cross Country
Championships this Saturday, Oct. 25. The 18th
championship will be held in Milledgeville, Ga., and hosted by
Georgia College & State University on the West Campus
Course. The event begins with the men’s 8k race at 9:00 am,
followed by the women’s 5k at 9:45.
The men’s race will feature a battle of wills for both the team championship and the individual title. Columbus State is the two-time PBC Champion and wants to become the first team to win three in a row since Kennesaw State won four straight from 2001-04. The Cougars enter the race after a tremendously successful season that saw the team win three of the four meets they ran, including the PBC Pre-Conference meet on the GCSU course back in September.
Individually, CSU has the deepest team in the PBC. Nathan Prickett has three top-10 finishes this year and has led the team in two of their four races. David Marley was the first Cougar across the line in the other two with a third-place at the Pre-Conference meet and another at the Auburn Invitational.
However, the third PBC title may be the toughest for CSU to get as the level of competition around the conference has risen. The most serious challenger may be Clayton State, who came in second to Columbus State at the Pre-Conference and then beat the Cougars at the Mercer Invitational. The Lakers have two first-place and two second-place results in their five meets this season with wins at the Wingate and Anderson Invitationals.
Clayton State has a deep team as well, led by sophomore sensation Fidelis Mutiso. The Kenyan runner won the PBC Pre-Conference meet on the Milledgeville course and has finished in the top three four times this year. Anthony Aguilar won the CSU Cougar Invitational and has three top-five’s while defending PBC individual champion Walid Berkhedle has two top 10s.
Francis Marion is also a contender for the PBC title. The Patriots won the Presbyterian Collegiate and finished second at the NCAA Pre-Regional and have top-fives in all five races they have run. Hillary Kiprop was named PBC Runner of the Week three times and is a strong candidate to win the individual title on Saturday. Kiprop won the Limestone Invitational and at Presbyterian and finished second by one second to Mutiso at the PBC Pre-Conference. That race is the only one in which the two Kenyans competed together.
Other men’s teams to watch are host GCSU, which finished third at the PBC Pre-Conference run on their home course. The Bobcats have two top-five results this year and finished in the top 10 at the 20-team Mercer Invitational. UNC Pembroke finished in the top half at the Wingate Invitational, the only 10k meet they ran this year. North Georgia was fourth at the PBC Pre-Conference and third at Suwanee as the Saints feature one of the strongest teams in recent years.
The women’s race will also feature its fair share of drama. The Columbus State Lady Cougars are the three-time defending PBC Champions and are looking to become only the second team in PBC history to win four in a row. The Lady Cougars have once again turned in a stellar regular season with wins in three of their four meets including the PBC Pre-Conference at GCSU.
Individually, CSU has many weapons to choose from. Kandace Smith has three top-three results while Brittney Skiles was the first Lady Cougar to cross the line, coming in second, at the PBC Pre-Conference meet. Ashley Arnold finished sixth twice and seventh once in her four races.
But, just as with the men’s team, the CSU women may face their most serious challenge this Saturday as they try to continue their championship run. Augusta State stands in the forefront of the challengers after winning three meets this year. The Jaguars won the Wingate, Jaguar and Anderson Invitationals and finished second behind Columbus State at the PBC Pre-Conference by six points; it is the only race that both teams have competed in together.
Individually, Jenafer Forward has been the first Jaguars to finish in all five races run this season. The senior was second at the Jaguar Invitational and third at both the Anderson and Wingate events. Kara Kreutzer has come on strong as the season has progressed, finishing seventh at Anderson and at the Jaguar while Savannah Sutton has four top-10s and Celia Kresser two top 10s.
While ASU and CSU will be at the forefront in the battle for the team title, there may not be such a contest for the individual championship. Clayton State’s Allison Kreutzer has won each and every race she has competed in this year, becoming only the second PBC runner to win five races in a row and the first to do so since 1999. The senior All-American won the PBC Pre-Conference meet by 33 seconds and has been named the PBC Runner of the Week four times this year. Kreutzer will help try and lift Clayton State into contention. The Lakers as a team were second at the CSU Cougar Invitational and fourth at Anderson.
Lander enters the women’s race on a tear with two wins this year and have finished in the top five in five of their six meets. The Bearcats won their own Lander Invitational and the Presbyterian Intercollegiate. The Bearcats will look to the sister combo of Claudia and Olga Nunez-Lopez to pace the team. Olga Nunez-Lopez has been the team’s top finisher in five of six races including a second place at Winthrop and a third at Presbyterian. The one race where she was not the first Lander runner, her sister finished ahead of her in fifth at the ASU Jaguar Invite.
UNC Pembroke has also won two meets this year at the season-opening Gamecock Invitational and their own UNCP event. Once again, it is a pair of sisters that set the pace as Alex and Brianna Talob have been the top two Lady Braves in two of their five races. Tierra McIntosh and Ivy Ramsey have also both been in the top 10 twice this year.
Other teams to watch on Saturday include host Georgia College & State University. The Lady Bobcats were third at both the PBC Pre-Conference meet and the Wingate Invitational. Karissa Ekstrom, Heather Raines and Dani Destiche have all been the top runner for GCSU this year.
North Georgia has finished in the top 10 in every race they have run this year and won the Suwanee Invitational. The Lady Saints were fourth at the PBC Pre-Conference meet. Francis Marion’s Kelly May has been named the PBC Runner of the Week twice after turning in two second-place and one third-place finish this year. Likewise, USC Aiken’s Nicole Maitland was named a PBC Runner of the Week after winning the Presbyterian Invitational. Maitland has two top-five finishes this season. Georgia Southwestern finished third at the Cougar Invitational and fourth at the Darton Invitational.
The PBC Championships will be followed by a 3k fun run that is open to the community for a $10 entry fee. All proceeds will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Admission to the PBC Cross Country Championships is free.