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Furman expected to sweep, ETSU looks to improve at SoCon XC Championships

Tanner Cook • Oct 31, 2019 at 11:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The Southern Conference cross country championships are coming to Johnson City on Saturday morning, which will mark the first time since 1968 that East Tennessee State will host a conference meet.

Furman has had a stranglehold on the SoCon for the better part of the last decade and, on paper, it should be no different at Pine Oaks Golf Course.

The women’s race is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and the men will follow at 10:45. The women will run a 5-kilometer course while the men will do an 8K (4.97 miles).

The course is a large loop on the front-nine at Pine Oaks. The best viewing spots are on the second and fifth tees.

Parking at University Parkway Baptist Church and admission to the event are free to the general public. The main lot at Pine Oaks will be closed to the public.

MEN’S RACE

Seniors headline the front-runners for the individual titles as Furman’s Ryan Adams and Samford’s Dillon Dean will look to set the pace early.

Dean has been a huge bright spot for the Bulldogs this season, having one of his best races at the Greater Louisville Classic and running 23:55 and finishing ninth overall in a loaded gold division race.

Adams leads a loaded Paladins squad looking to win its seventh consecutive SoCon team title.

He holds the school records in both the indoor 800- and outdoor 1,500-meters and was second-team All-American last year in the 1,500. He is more of track runner, but with the long straightaways at Pine Oaks, it should come down to an exciting finish.

His most recent performance was an 11th place finish at the Wisconsin Nuttycombe Invitational, clocking 23:50 and leading Furman to a 19th place finish in a stellar field. Adams has also won SoCon Runner of the Week four times this season and leads the conference by time with a 23:36 at Oregon early in the season.

For ETSU, the Buccaneers come into the championships a bit banged up, but the fact that the conference meet is at home for the first time in 51 years should be a source of pride.

“The top ten or 15 runners in this conference are pretty good,” ETSU coach George Watts said. “I think Noah (Charles), Ben (Varghese) and Malik (Gemechu) being hometown guys are going to take this pretty seriously. We have to have a fifth runner, though. Those next three guys behind our top four could be the fifth on any given day and we’ll have to have it to finish high.”

Former Daniel Boone standout Varghese was the runner-up last year for the Bucs and has a season best of 24:25. He ran that at a challenging Virginia Tech course in mid-September.

The best time of the season for any Buc over 8K is Science Hill alum Gemechu’s 24:08 at Louisville.

ETSU finished as the runner-up last year to Furman.

WOMEN’S RACE

Furman senior Gabrielle Jennings has been running well all season and is ranked in the top 20, according to the most recent individual power rankings on FloTrack.

Her most recent performance at Wisconsin was an impressive eighth place in 20:07 for 6K (3.728 miles) and was her fourth top 10 finish this season. She has received SoCon weekly honors three times this season.

Other contenders include Samford’s McKenzie Hogue and Wofford steeplechase All-American Hannah Steelman. Steelman is the defending champion and has the fastest 5K time of the season at 16:48.3. The Terriers are currently coached by Johnny Bomar, a King University head coach from 2006 until 2011.

Furman will also be going for its seventh consecutive conference team title on the women’s side.

For ETSU, the women lost top runner Lindsey Stallworth earlier in the season to an injury and have been hampered with several others.

“I’m not really sure who will be our top runner. We’ve had three or four top runners this season after Lindsey went out,” Watts said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing because the other girls have been running well all season no matter who the top runner is. I’m sure our women’s strategy will be more running as a pack and whoever has the best last 1,000 meters is probably going to be our top runner.”

The local women who will be defending home turf for ETSU include junior Heather Feuchtenberger (Elizabethton), Makayla Shaw (Daniel Boone) and Hannah Sokol (Dobyns-Bennett).

ETSU finished fourth last season.

HOMECOMING

The SoCon championships not only coincide with ETSU’s homecoming weekend, but will be an opportunity for locals at other conference schools to run in Johnson City.

Samford freshman and former Science Hill standout Jeb Jones has had a solid season for the Bulldogs, breaking 25 minutes multiple times and could be the top freshman in the race.

Furman senior and former Sullivan East state champion Luke Meade makes a return trip to Northeast Tennessee.

The Citadel’s Casey Miller (Science Hill) and Chattanooga’s Sophia Neglia (Dobyns-Bennett) will also be returning to the mountains.

UP NEXT

Once the conference meet is complete, runners will immediately turn their attention to the NCAA South or Southeast Regional meets in two weeks.

ETSU will be going to the South Regional in Tallahassee, Florida, at the Apalachee Regional Park, and some other SoCon teams will be going to the Southeast Regional in Charlottesville, Virginia, at Panorama Farms.

Qualifiers from the regional meets and others to receive at-large bids will qualify for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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