PBC Cross Country Championships Set for Saturday
PEMBROKE, N.C. -- The Peach Belt Conference will host its 19th
Cross Country Championship this Saturday from the Luther Britt Park
in Lumberton, N.C. The championship is the first of the PBC-GEICO
Championship Series and brings together the largest field for a
cross country championship the PBC has had since 2003. The
women’s 6k race will begin at 8:30 am while the men will run
an 8k at 9:15. Admission to the races is free.
The women’s field will feature 11 teams for the first time since 2003 as Flagler and Montevallo compete for their first conference championships since joining the league this year. The women’s race was changed from a 5k to a 6k run to mirror the length of the NCAA regional race in two weeks. The challenge for all teams competing will be to dethrone Columbus State University, who are poised to win their fifth straight conference title.
CSU’s four championships in a row is the second-longest streak in conference history only to the seven in a row Kennesaw State claimed from 1994-2000. The Lady Cougars are more of an unknown in 2009 thanks to running a limited schedule after dates were lost to team illness. CSU won their own Cougar Invitational and were the highest-finishing PBC team at the Berry Invitational. Brittney Skiles led the team in two of the three races, covering all three 5k distances in under 20 minutes. Naomi Tanui ran the fastest 5k in the Peach Belt at the Cougar Invitational in 18:33.
|GCSU's Heather Raines|
Georgia College & State University is one of several teams that could threaten the CSU dynasty. The Lady Bobcats finished ahead of the Lady Cougars at the Mercer Invitational and won the 11-team Southern Challenge while finishing second at Texas-San Antonio and St. Michael’s. Heather Raines has been named the PBC Runner of the Week twice in 2009 with a win at the Southern Challenge and two more top-10 finishes. Raines led the Lady Bobcats in every race except Mercer, where Virginia Balkcom ran a team-best 22:16 to finish 25th.
Augusta State finished ahead of CSU in the NCAA Regionals last
year to earn their first trip to the NCAA National Finals. ASU has
run five races this season but has yet to face CSU head-to-head.
The Jaguars won the PBC Pre-Conference meet at Luther Britt Park in
September and have three top-three results this season. Freshman
Holly Keeper was second overall at the Pre-Conference and has led
the team in each race she has run.
Montevallo will compete in their first PBC Championship and very well could win it. The Falcons finished fourth at the Mercer Invitational, ahead of both CSU and GCSU, and have one other top-five in their four races this season. Haley Evans ran the fourth-fastest 5k in the league at the Gulf Coast Stampede in 19:19 while teammate Haley Glover was four seconds behind with the fifth-fastest time in the PBC this year.
Other women’s teams to watch include Clayton State who finished fourth at the JSU/Strut’s Season Opener. The Laker’s Chelsea Ellis was then named the PBC Runner of the Week after finishing 18th out of more than 300 runners at the Disney Classic. Host UNC Pembroke won the Mt. Olive Invitational. Annette Sem finished second in that race and was also in the top 10 in the PBC Pre-Conference. USC Aiken finished second at the Asics Classic and the USC Gamecock. USCA’s Jani Linde has finished in the top 10 in every race she has run this season.
North Georgia has three top-five finishes this season including a fifth at the recent Trojan Invitational. Flagler finished third at the Florida Tech Invitational and was sixth at the FLRunners.com. Francis Marion was fifth at the Blue Hose Invitational while Georgia Southwestern was second at the Cougar Invitational.
On the men’s side, Columbus State is once again the team to beat as they look to take home
|Columbus State's Meshack Koyiaki|
their fourth straight PBC title. The Cougars may be in a
position to do just that with a very strong team which includes
David Marley, who won the 2008 PBC Championship race. But all eyes
will be on newcomer Meshack Koyiaki. The Kenyan has won all three
races he has begun this season, including the Berry and Mercer
Invitationals. Koyiaki holds three of the top four fastest 8k times
run this year, including the top two.
But nobody is conceding a fourth title to Columbus State, several teams have their own eyes on the prize. UNC Pembroke will be running on their home course after winning both the Mt. Olive Invitational and the PBC Pre-Conference meet which was run on the same course at Luther Britt Park. The Braves have a star of their own as Zimbabwe native Pardon Ndhlovu will seek his fourth individual title of the season after winning the PBC Pre-Conference, the Seahawk Invitational and the East Carolina Invitational. Ndhlovu’s 24:35 8k at the Great American XC Festival is the third-fastest time in the PBC this year.
Clayton State was the last non-Columbus team to win the PBC Championship in 2005 and want to be the ones to end the streak. The Lakers won the Southern Challenge and were third at the JSU/Strut’s Season Opener. Fidelis Mutiso won the Southern Challenge and was the third-fastest PBC runner at the Berry Invitational. Joey Chino was named All-Conference in 2008 after finishing second at the PBC Championship and was second at this year’s Southern Challenge.
Other men’s teams to watch are GCSU, who finished second to the Lakers at the Southern Challenge and were third at Texas-San Antonio. Francis Marion has finished fourth or better in four of the five races they have run this year, including a second at the PC Blue Hose Invitational. Flagler’s Michael Lambert was named the PBC Runner of the Week after he finished 29th at the Division I-heavy Hatter Invitational. The Saints have finished second at both the Asics Invitational and the UCF Inivitational. North Georgia is ranked 10th in the latest region poll and have two fifth-place and two sixth-place finishes this season. Armstrong Atlantic State will compete for the cross country title for the first time since 1999 after the program was reinstated for the 2009 season.
The cross country championships will be part of the annual Chevy to the Levee community engagement event held in the park. This year will mark the seventh year of the Jerry Johnson Chevy to the Levee 5K trail race at Luther Britt Park. In addition to the trail races, there is a Family Fun Mile that begins at 10:30 a.m. The 5k will begin at 11:30 a.m. The Chevy to the Levee features kayak and canoe rides, inflatable water toys, live music and much more.