SPARTANBURG, S.C. – The USC Upstate men's and women's cross country teams each were predicted to finish in the top three for the first time ever. The men's team was predicted to finish second, while the women's team earned a tie for third.
"To go from being a new team and finishing at the bottom of the conference in 2007, to being ranked as one of the top programs is very exciting," said head coach Jimmy Stephens. "Our staff and teams have put in a ton of work to get to this point. I am very excited for our program and the direction we are headed!"
At last season's Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championships, Gilbert Kemboi (Eldoret, Kenya/Kangetuny) and Christian Ritacco (Niceville, Fla./Niceville) led the Spartans to a tie for third-place. Kemboi finished second-overall at the championship event, earning First-Team All-A-Sun honors and Freshman of the Year accolades after earning a spot on the All-Freshman Team.
Ritacco, finished 15th-overall, also earned a spot on the All-Freshman Team. Both Kemboi and Ritacco are back for their sophomore campaigns and are joined by two other strong sophomore performers Davey Dennison (Carlisle, Pa./Carlisle) and Cameron Thomas (Niceville, Fla./Niceville).
Kennesaw State was selected to repeat as conference champions after receiving seven first-place votes and 112 total points. Upstate followed in second (one first-place vote, 100 points), with ETSU (2, 96), Belmont (1, 94) rounding out the top four.
UNF was fifth with 84 points, with Lipscomb (71) sixth and Mercer seventh (53). Florida Gulf Coast (43), Campbell (40), Jacksonville (19) and Stetson (16) rounded out the men's poll.
The women's team returns All-A-Sun First-Team selection Jemeli Sang (Eldoret, Kenya/Biwott Ngelel-Tarit) and second-team selection Carolyne Chelulei (Eldoret, Kenya/Alliance Girls). Sang finished fifth at last season's championship event, while Chelulei posted a ninth-place finish, helping the Spartans earn a fourth-place finish. At one point during the 2009 season, the women's team ranked 12th in the southeast USTFCCCA poll, ahead of South Carolina and Charlotte.
"Being ranked at the top of the conference is exciting, but the ultimate goal is to perform well at the conference championships," added Stephens. "Where you are ranked at the beginning of the season provides no real indication of how you will perform at the A-Sun Championships. All you can do is prepare, try to stay healthy and give it your all at the championship event."
Jacksonville was selected by the league's coaches to repeat as the women's champion as the Dolphins received nine of 11 first-place votes. UNF was second with 98 points, while Upstate and Kennesaw State tied for third with 89 points. Lipscomb was the only other team to receive first-place votes, as the Bisons received two votes and 83 total points for a fifth-place ranking.
Belmont (78), FGCU (50), Campbell (43), Mercer (40), ETSU (25) and Stetson (12) rounded out the poll on the women's side.
"We have a great group of athletes, but everyone will have to do their part for us to live up to these rankings. I am really proud of our team and Coach Blackwelder as they are doing an amazing job. We will all have to work extremely hard to live up to the expectations set in front of us."
Upstate will kick off the 2010 season with a dual meet against Wofford at Milliken Research Park on Wed., Sept. 1, before hosting the Eye Opener Invitational on Sat., Sept. 4.
Men's Cross Country Preseason Poll
Rank School (First-Place Votes) Points
1. Kennesaw State (7) 112
2. USC Upstate (1) 100
3. ETSU (2) 96
4. Belmont (1) 94
5. UNF 84
6. Lipscomb 71
7. Mercer 53
8. FGCU 43
9. Campbell 40
10. Jacksonville 19
11. Stetson 16
Women's Cross Country Preseason Poll
Rank School (First Place Votes) Points
1. Jacksonville (9) 116
2. UNF 98
T3. USC Upstate 89
T3. Kennesaw State 89
5. Lipscomb (2) 83
6. Belmont 78
7. FGCU 50
8. Campbell 43
9. Mercer 40
10. ETSU 25
11. Stetson 12