Thursday, October 31, 2013

Atlantic Sun Continues Rich Cross Country History at Vaughn's Gap

In the past decade no course is more prominent to the Atlantic Sun as the Vaughn’s Gap Course in Nashville, Tennessee.

The league is on the brink of crowning its fourth A-Sun Champion on the course for men’s and women’s cross country since 2004.

Four A-Sun squads have competed on the course this year alone with Lipscomb’s men winning the team title in the common meet, while the LU women’s squad finished second only behind the SEC’s Vanderbilt.

Focusing on home course advantage, a Nashville school has won every A-Sun.

Championship on the Vaughn’s Gap Course on the women’s side, while the men have won two out of three.

The Lady Bisons have become very comfortable with the course and step in as the two-time defending A-Sun Champion. The last women’s team to win at the Vaughn’s Gap course was Lipscomb.

“The last time we ran the championship here our women’s team was just starting to emerge as the team they are now,” Head Coach of the Lady Bisons Bill Taylor said.

The Bisons’ win in Nashville in 2011 was one of the toughest titles in conference history as Lipscomb notched the win with 53 points, the fourth-highest winning total in A-Sun history and a testament to the parity and competitiveness among the field that season.

“Our course is pretty basic, it’s got good footing with a few good hills,” explained Taylor.

ETSU ran the same course earlier this season at the Commodore Classic on September 14th. The Buccaneers' Katie Hirko, last season's A-Sun Freshman of the Year, enjoyed the lay out.

“I felt that the course had a good mixture of hills but also some flat sections where you can start to develop a rhythm,” Hirko said. “This course should appeal to all runners.  It is a very demanding course but a very fair course; I enjoy how the last mile is almost completely flat.”

At the Commodore Classic, Hirko finished in the top-25 with a time of 17:49.20 against several regionally ranked competitors.

“Overall I believe the runners will like the course and have a very positive experience running on it,” Hirko claimed. 

In the 2012 A-Sun Championship, Hirko was the first freshman to cross the line to be named the A-Sun Freshman of the Year. Hirko was the only freshman to finish in the top-10 in the meet.

“I feel very fortunate to have been named the Freshman of the Year in 2012, my goal this year and for every meet is to do the very best I can for my team and school,” Hirko said. “I feel I have made normal progress from one year to the next and look forward to the conference championship. There are a lot of very talented runners in our conference; I look forward to competing against them.”

On the men’s side there has been only one team that has claimed the A-Sun title at the Vaughn’s Gap Course that was not from Tennessee and the USC Upstate squad in 2011 did so in exciting fashion.

“Two years ago when we won the title in Nashville it was a surprise, we really didn’t expect to win,” USC Upstate’s Associate Head Coach Carson Blackwelder remarked. “Our goal going in was top 3 and the guys stepped up and made it a very special meet for us.  It was the first A-Sun championship victory for our program.” 

Upstate won the title by ten points as Gilbert Kemboi crossed the line 28 seconds faster than his nearest competitor. The Spartans hold the A-Sun record for the highest winning team total with 69 points in the 2011 championship.

“I know those guys on that team will remember that day for the rest of their lives.”

Northern Kentucky’s J.J. Webber is hoping to surprise some teams this year after the Norse ran the course earlier this year at the Commodore Classic and claimed the individual title.

“I think because we ran the course earlier this year it will help us (NKU) be more competitive, we have a great team this year,” Webber said. “I think we are going to surprise some people this year.”

Webber crossed the line in 24:58.38 to defeat harriers from ETSU, Mercer and Lipscomb to collect runner of the week honors that week. Webber became the first men’s cross country runner in the A-Sun to earn four Runner of the Week titles in one season.

“I hope all of the Florida teams aren’t as prepared for the colder weather. I think that’s a great advantage for us. Our team is ready for a competitive race.”

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