USC Upstate Eye Opener Invitational
This year the men's and women's cross country squad will play host and compete in the 27th annual Eye Opener Invitational, held at Milliken Research Park. The event will welcome 44 different teams from four states and kick off at 8 a.m. with the women's 5K race. The men's 8K race is set to begin at 8:30 a.m.
Among those 44 squads are three Atlantic Sun opponents as Belmont will travel with their men's cross country team and Campbell plans on traveling both men's and women's cross country programs.
"This will be a good first meet for the year," said assistant coach Carson Blackwelder. "We have some conference schools coming and it will give us a chance to see what type of shape we are in."
Familiar Territory: Milliken Research Park
A first-class cross country course, the Milliken Research Park, located adjacent to the USC Upstate campus, has played host to the annual Eye Opener, the 1995 NCAA Division II National Championships, the NCAA South Region Championships in 2004 and 2005, the 1999 National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championships, the Spartanburg County Championships, the Region 2-4A Championships, Milliken's Corporate Earth Run Race, and the 2006 CVAC Championships.
The Milliken Research Park and its scenic 660-acre campus is the site of the global headquarters of Milliken & Company and will be host to the Spartans during many of their practices.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO MILLIKEN RESEARCH PARK
All In The Family
The Spartan's roster for the 2010 season boasts two sets of siblings – with one of them being twins! Matt & Michael Johnson are a set of freshman Upstate runners, while sisters Emily and Joan Tangwar for the women's side are a senior and junior, respectively.
The Johnsons boys are the twin sons of Donald and Monica Johnson and have three other brothers and three sisters. Matt and Michael both enjoy eating chicken and listening to Michael Jackson. The Johnsons grew up in Elgin, S.C. and were prepped at Spring Valley High School.
The Tangwar sisters are the daughters of the late Joseph and Magdalyne Tangwar and have three brothers, Richard, Dan and Geoffry and four other sisters, Eunice, Ruth Loia and Milka. They both enjoy eating chapatti and ugali (corn meal).
Atlantic Sun Coaches Poll
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 in program history mid-August as 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!"
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.
"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."
Spartans See Success In 2009
The USC Upstate cross country teams concluded the 2009 campaign on Oct. 31 with strong performances at the Atlantic Sun Championships in DeLand, Fla. Gilbert Kemboi finished second and led the men's team to a tie for third-place, while Jemeli Sang and Carolyne Chelulei posted top-10 finishes for the fourth-place women's team.
It was the third season for the Spartans in Division I and it was a successful one. The men's tie for third-place was the highest conference finish since 2001 when the Spartans finished third in the Peach Belt Conference. In the previous two seasons of A-Sun competition the Spartans have finished 10th (2007) and eighth (2008).
The women's team posted a fourth-place finish at the championship. That fourth-place finish was the best in school history for Upstate. The last two seasons, the women's team climbed in the final rankings, finishing 12th in 2007 and seventh last season.
Upstate Pulls Rank
The women's team found itself ranked in the first United States Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Southeast region poll of the season on Sept. 28. The Spartans entered the poll ranked 12th, ahead of regional rivals South Carolina (13th) and Appalachian State (15th). It was the first ever regional ranking for Upstate.
Gilbert Kemboi and Carolyne Chelulei each recorded a trio of first place finishes in 2009.
9/1 – Wofford Relays: Cameron Thomas/Gilbert Kemboi -25:30
9/5 – Eye Opener Invitational – 25:00
10/17 – USC Upstate Invitational – 24:38.68
9/1 – Wofford Relays: Carolune Cheluli/Joan Tangwar – 22:57
9/5 – Eye Opener Invitational – 18:12
10/17 – USC Upstate Invitational – 17:59.88
During the Eye Opener Invitational last season, Gilbert Kemboi posted a 25:00 to put him 31 seconds ahead of the previous Eye Opener record that was set in 2008 by Patrick Morgan of Furman (25:31). With the time, Kemboi also broke a 17-year old Upstate school record of 25:43, which was set by Pat McLuaughlin at the 1982 dual meet against Furman.
Thanks to his strong performances, Kemboi won the first A-Sun Runner of the Week award on a trio of occasions in 2009. With his recognition from the Atlantic Sun Conference Kemboi became the first-ever male cross country runner to receive the honors in program history.
At the Charlotte Invitational on Oct. 2, Kemboi once again broke the school record, this time with his 24:28.40 posting, to take second at the Invite.
Trying To Catch Carolyne
Last season, Carolyne Cheluli won her second consecutive race at the Eye Opener Invitational and was the second consecutive Upstate women's runner to win at the Invitational.
At the Charlotte Invitational on Oct. 2, Cheluli picked up a third place finish on 17:31.40 – a new personal best and school record. With her stellar performance at the Invitational, she was recognized by the Atlantic Sun Conference as the runner of the week.
At the A-Sun Championships in DeLand, Fla. on Oct. 31, the men's team finished tied for third, while the women's team posted a fourth-place finish in the 11-team event.
Gilbert Kemboi led the men's team in DeLand, Fla., finishing second overall and first for the Spartans with a time of 25:36. His strong performance earned him multiple conference accolades as he was selected to the A-Sun All-Conference First Team as well as the All-Freshman team. The native of Eldoret, Kenya, was also named A-Sun Freshman of the Year.
Joining Kemboi on the All-Freshman team was Christian Ritacco. The Niceville, Fla., native finished 15th after a time of 26:53.
"Gilbert broke the school record by 1:25, but along with him five of the top 20 performances in school history were recorded," said Blackwelder. "The men's team relied on four freshmen who rose to the challenges of a collegiate season. The guys surprised a lot of people placing third at the conference meet."
For the first time all season, Jemeli Sang finished ahead of teammate Carolyne Chelulei. Her fifth-place finish earned her a spot on the A-Sun All-Conference First Team. Chelulei (18:16) finished ninth in the event and earned A-Sun All-Conference Second Team accolades.