Spartanburg, S.C. – Armed with a team and two individual A-Sun championships, the USC Upstate men's and women's cross country teams will open a new era of competition when the Spartans compete in their first-ever NCAA Division I Regional Saturday morning in Louisville, Ky.
Upstate is coming off its most successful performance in the A-Sun Championships just two weeks ago in Nashville, Tenn. The men's team claimed its first-ever A-Sun Conference championship with Gilbert Kemboi (Eldoret, Kenya) winning his second individual title in a row. The women's team tied its best performance, fourth place, but Jemeli Sang (Eldoret, Kenya) won the individual championship, giving Upstate a sweep of individual titles.
With the success in hand, Upstate will take to a familiar course in Louisville Saturday with the hopes of making noise in its first-ever NCAA Division I Regional. The Spartans are in their first season competing with full Division I status after serving four years as provisional members of Division I. So, when Kemboi claimed the individual championship in the A-Sun last year, by 40 seconds mind you, his season was finished. This year, that is not the case.
"We are really excited about being able to compare ourselves to the rest of the Southeast," said Upstate associate head coach Carson Blackwelder. "The men and women are both up for the challenge."
Last year, Kemboi and the Spartans competed in the Greater Louisville Classic on the same course on which Saturday's NCAA Regional is being run, though the distance is going to be extended for the NCAA Regional for both the men and women. Kemboi set the Upstate all-time record in the 8k on the course, turning in a time of 23:22.28 to finish third in a field that contained nationally-ranked teams and individuals. On the women's side, three Spartans finished in the top 60 on the course with Joan Tangwar (Eldoret, Kenya) leading the way with a 13th-place finish.
Upstate enters the NCAA Regional with the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA Nationals on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. The top-two team finishers will automatically qualify for the NCAA Nationals and the top four individual finishers not on a team which advances will also qualify. A few at-large positions for both the team and individuals will be up for grabs after the completion of the Regionals, but Upstate's best opportunity to secure a spot in the NCAA Nationals is in the NCAA Regional Saturday.
Kemboi has won three of the four races he has run this season, and finished second in the other. The Upstate women swept first-place efforts in each meet the team ran in this season. Tangwar won three races, while Sang claimed two titles, including the Clemson Invitational and the A-Sun Championship. Sang, the A-Sun Runner of the Year, was joined on the All-Conference team by Tangwar and Carolyne Chelulei (Eldoret, Kenya). Kemboi was the A-Sun Runner of the Year on the men's side and was joined on the all-conference team by Davey Dennison (Carlisle, Pa.).