LAURINBURG — After recording their highest finish in the conference under coach Bill Cason last season, the St. Andrews men’s and women’s cross country teams are gearing up for another run to take home the Appalachian Athletic Conference championship.
Both the men’s and the women’s team finished in sixth place last year in the 11-team conference, and Cason said several key returners could help propel the program into the upper-echelon of AAC.
Tyler Beaver, the lone senior on the men’s team, is the captain and leader of the seven-man squad. He ran one of the top 8K times in school history last season, running it in 26:07, good enough for sixth place on the all-time list. No. 1 in St. Andrews history is Mitch Cooper, who ran the 8K in 25:55 in 2008.
“Tyler is shooting for the school record, 25:55,” Cason said. “That’s his goal for the year is to break that time. He’s got 12 seconds, so he’s got a good shot at it.”
Justin Brown, a sophomore whom Cason said had a successful freshman campaign, is also considered one the team’s best runners.
On the women’s side, junior Kaitlyn Stempien, and sophomores Morgan Tedder and Kara Thornton are the most consistent performers.
Despite the presence of numerous veterans on both teams, Cason said one of the more exciting parts of beginning a new season is seeing how the freshman perform as they transition from high school. On the men’s side, the freshmen have to adjust to running 8Ks instead of 5Ks. Cason doesn’t expect the incoming men or women freshman to top his upperclassmen, but the success of Brown, Tedder, and Thornton as freshmen last year show that they are still expected to to contribute.
“New excitement is always the freshmen and how they are going to do,” Cason said. “The men have never run college distance before so you don’t know how they are going to react to that longer distance of events. The women are more track runners than cross country runners so it’s a big adjustment for them just seeing how they like it and how they fit into the program. A freshman could lead us and we would love to see that and keep the upperclassmen on their toes.”
Both teams share the same offseason and regular season schedules, and began training for the coming year on their own on June 1. They reported to St. Andrews on Aug. 18, and Cason said it was obvious they hadn’t let themselves slip over the summer.
“We’ve had a little over a week of workouts and everybody came back in pretty good shape, so I was happy with that … You could tell very quickly if they didn’t.”
Cason is going into his third season at the helm of the cross country and track and field programs, and said the appeal of building up the sport at St. Andrews is what first attracted him to the position. The school didn’t have a track and field team when he first arrived, but the sport was added last year. Cason also mentioned how he has been able to lure more recruits to a school the last few years.
“Just the fact that it is new, come help us build a new program in town,” Cason. “Being someone to pioneer the new team is a good recruiting tool.”
Bryan College is the defending men’s conference champion, and Milligan College won the women’s conference championship last season. Cason said Tennessee-Wesleyan’s men and women also consistently compete for an AAC title. In order for St. Andrews to finish in the top tier of the conference, they will have to continue to bring in talented runners, and focus on the individual improvement of everyone on the roster for the benefit of the team.
“We just have to keep working hard,” Cason said. “Develop the kids we have, experience things, and keep bringing in good runners.”
The school will host the St. Andrews 5K Invitational on Friday at 6 p.m. in its first meet of the season. It will be the only meet held at St. Andrews this cross country season. This event, along with the rest of the meets this year, are in preparation for the all-important conference meet on Nov. 8.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.