Spartanburg, S.C. – The Atlantic Sun Conference released its preseason coaches poll and individual awards as the season is set to get underway and the Spartan men's team is picked to finish fifth and the women's team is picked to finish ninth heading into the season.
The men's team is coming off back-to-back A-Sun championships, but will also be a young group. The team welcomes nine newcomers to the program after graduating four of their top five performers from last year's A-Sun Championship winning squad, including three-time A-Sun individual champion Gilbert Kemboi. Despite the loss of so many top runners from last year's team, Upstate has garnered tremendous respect and received one first place vote in the coaches poll. Ross Oden (Salisbury, N.C.) is the leading returning runner for Upstate, finishing as the fourth-best Spartan in the A-Sun Championships last year.
"We have a very young team with a majority of the runners being freshmen," said associate head coach and two-time A-Sun Coach of the Year Carson Blackwelder. "I'm excited to see how good this group of guys can get. They are focused and ready to work. While we are ranked fifth in the polls, I think we may surprise some people."
ETSU is picked to win the A-Sun with six first place votes and 94 points. Lipscomb was second is second with 74 points and a first place vote, while Kennesaw State is third with 67 points and two first place votes. Florida Gulf Coast is fourth in the poll with 65 points and is followed by Upstate (63), Northern Kentucky (53), Mercer (51), North Florida (50), Stetson (18) and Jacksonville (15).
On the women's side, Upstate returns five of the top six Spartan runners at the A-Sun Championships last fall and should be a young but experienced group looking to build on solid efforts last year. Two years removed from graduating arguably the top senior class in the history of the program, the Spartans look for continued improvement this season.
"The team is young with a lot of freshmen and sophomores," said Blackwelder. "Last year they gained a lot of experience and I believe we can move up in the conference standings from last year's finish."
Lipscomb, with all 10 first place votes, is picked to win the A-Sun and garnered 100 points. North Florida is second in the coaches poll with 86 points and is followed by Jacksonville (78), ETSU (71), Kennesaw State (59), Mercer (48), Florida Gulf Coast (42), Northern Kentucky (31), Upstate (24) and Stetson (11).
Jasmine Polite (Goose Creek, S.C.) was the top finisher for Upstate in last year's A-Sun Championships and returns to lead the team this season. She will be joined by fellow returners Anastasia Kolesnitchenko (Boiling Springs, S.C.), Hannah Chaney (Brunswick, Ohio), Erin Gethin (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) and Nia Payne (Conway, S.C.). Collectively, those five runners were five of the top six finishers for the Spartans in the A-Sun Championships last year.
The 2013 A-Sun Championships will be run on Nov. 2 and hosted by Lipscomb in Nashville, Tenn.