CHARLESTON, S.C. – The UNCG men's and women's cross country teams head to Mt. Pleasant, S.C., this weekend for the Southern Conference Cross Country Championships at the Laurel Hill Plantation Saturday morning. The Spartans are the defending SoCon champions in both the men's and women's fields after sweeping the team and individual titles last season.
The SoCon Championship begins with a women's 5,000-meter race at 10 a.m., followed by the men's 8,000-meter race beginning at 10:45 a.m. The event will conclude with an awards ceremony to honor the top team and individual performer.
The UNCG men's program was tabbed preseason favorites in the coaches' poll and is looking to defend its title won last season by 47 points over its nearest team competitor. Junior Paul Chelimo
(Chebiemit, Kenya/Chebiemit Boys School) enters the race as the prohibitive favorite as the defending SoCon Runner of the Year and reigning SoCon championship race winner. He won last year's race in a time of 23:11.56, the fastest time by any men's runner at the league championship since 1996.
"On the men's side, we would like to win the individual title and the team title," head coach Linh Nguyen
said. "It is going to be difficult race as we have a lot of good teams in the Southern Conference but we think we have just as good of a shot as anybody Saturday."
Chelimo owns the top two times in the 8,000-meter distance this season in the SoCon with his time of 22:59.62 at the Greater Louisville Classic (Sept. 29) clocking in as the top mark in the league by almost a minute of his closest competitor.
Sophomore Paul Katam
(Eldoret, Kenya/Sacho) is his top competition as the reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year. Katam has the fastest times in the league this season of any runner not named Chelimo as he Pre-Nationals mark of 23:49.90 is 27 seconds ahead of the next runner, Luis Vargas of Elon. Junior Abraham Kemboi
(Eldoret, Kenya/Kipkabus) owns a top time this season of 25:03.30 at the Pre-Nationals while sophomore Dylan Belles
(Denver, N.C./East Lincoln) posted a season-best time of 25:51.00 at the same race.
On the women's side, the Spartans notched the team championship last season with a score of 35 points, defeating second-place Furman by 45 points. Leading the young Spartans into action this season is senior Chelsea Sumney (Washington, Pa./Trinity) who finished last year's race in fifth place with a time of 17:12.80.
"On the women's side, we are extremely young," Nguyen said. "We are looking to get our freshmen's feet wet and get that championship experience. This will be the first time this year that we are running when it really means something for the team score. The experience they will gain this year will be beneficial over their careers."
Sumney owns two of the top four times in the Southern Conference this season, including a 17:31.81 mark at the Greater Louisville Classic. Her mark was just eight seconds off the top mark in the league set by Lauren D'Alessio of Samford (17:23.40).
Junior Kelly Montague (Garner, N.C./West Johnson) has the Spartans' second fastest time this season, posting an 18:52.15 mark at the Greater Louisville Classic. Freshman Lydia Saina (Eldoret, Kenya/Kapkenda Girls School) has improved her times throughout the fall, including a personal-best 19:20.30 also in Louisville.
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