Both the Eastern Kentucky University men’s and women’s cross country teams will open the season ranked No. 6 in the NCAA Southeast Region, per the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) preseason poll released on Monday.
It is the women’s team’s highest preseason regional ranking since the poll started in 2010. The Colonels were ranked as high as No. 4 in the region late last season before finishing seventh at the Southeast Region Championships in November.
EKU returns everyone from that team, and the veteran squad looks like a strong darkhorse candidate in the region. Junior All-American Charlotte Imer headlines the returners. Imer – a native of Melbourne, Australia – finished 31st at the NCAA Championships last November, marking the best national finish ever by an EKU woman. She followed that up by becoming the first EKU woman ever to break the 16-minute barrier in the 5,000 meters (15:59.3) and earned second team All-America honors after finishing 14th in the 5K at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Oregon.
Imer will be flanked by several decorated teammates, including seniors Luisa Boschan (2016 NCAA All-Southeast Region in cross country / 2017 NCAA regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters – 16:20.9), Haley Yost (2017 OVC champion and NCAA regional qualifier in the 800 meters and 1,500 meters) and Ciara Scott (EKU record holder and 2017 OVC champion in the steeplechase – 10:23.0), juniors Gladys Cheruiyot (2016 second team All-OVC) and Meggan Grams (2015 second team All-OVC) and sophomore Lilian Jeptoo Kiborus (2016 OVC Female Freshman of the Year).
N.C. State opens the season as the top-ranked women’s team in the Southeast, followed by No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Furman, No. 4 Kentucky, No. 5 Wake Forest and No. 6 EKU. The Colonels are ranked ahead of the likes of Virginia Tech (No. 8), Virginia (No. 9), North Carolina (No. 10), Clemson (No. 13) and Duke (No. 15) in the poll.
The men’s team finish fourth in the region in 2016, just missing out on an NCAA berth for the sixth consecutive season. The young Colonels lost four of their top five finishers from the regional race and will have to prove themselves in the rugged Southeast this fall.
Junior Erick Rotich, arguably the Colonels’ top runner last season, is back. Rotich is the two-time defending OVC Male Cross Country Runner of the Year, and he was the Colonels’ lone NCAA cross country qualifier last fall.
Junior Jamaine Coleman is also expected to play a key role this year. Coleman labored through a mediocre cross country season in 2016, but rebounded with a star-making turn during the track season. The native of Preston, England was voted the OVC Male Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and he was named second team All-America after finishing 13th in the steeplechase at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Oregon (8:34.1).
With so much talent gone from last year, other returners such as seniors Jakob Abrahamsen (2016 steeplechase All-American), Tom Koringo (3:45 1,500 meters PB) and Sergio Mena (24:11 8K PB), junior Samuel Abascal (2017 NCAA regional qualifier in the steeplechase) and sophomores Fred Kanda (24:50 8K PB) and Zach Stewart (2017 OVC bronze medalist in the 5,000 meters) will be expected to step up this fall.
Furman is the preseason Southeast Region favorite on the men’s side, followed by No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 Virginia Tech, No. 4 N.C. State, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 6 EKU.
The EKU cross country teams open the 2017 campaign at Morehead State’s Eagle Opener on Friday, September 1.
The 2017 Ohio Valley Conference Cross Country Championships will be held October 28 in Charleston, Illinois. It marks the first time the championship has been there since 2005.
The NCAA Championships will be held at E.P. ‘Tom’ Sawyer Park in Louisville this year, on November 18.
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