Carson-Newman Cross Country Teams to Begin 2009 Season on Saturday

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. -- The Carson-Newman cross county teams open the 2009 season on Saturday by competing in the 26th annual Eye Opener Invitational in Spartanburg, S.C.

The meet is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at Milliken Research Park.

C-N coach Whitney Lee is eager to see both of his squads hit the course for the first time this season.

"It's great to be back in season," Lee said. "Our teams spend all summer training with no team competition experiences, so to come back and train with their teammates, and then ultimately compete each weekend is a welcome change for us all."

"With what has been a good couple of weeks of team training, I think we are ready to get our first race in, and are certainly eager to see where we stack up against other programs in our conference and region throughout the course of the season."

The Lady Eagles were picked to finish fourth in the South Atlantic Conference preseason poll and have the talent returning to live up to and exceed those expectations. C-N finished third at the SAC Championships in 2008 and went on to place ninth in the Southeast Regional Championships.

The No. 1 challenge for Lee and the Lady Eagles will be finding a replacement for two-time SAC Runner of the Year Aubrey Morris (Chattanooga, Tenn.), who graduated after last season.

"Our women did lose a dynamite frontrunner in Aubrey Morris," Lee said. "We could always count on her for a low number."

The Lady Eagles return several talented runners to somewhat help ease the loss of Morris. Senior Cara Hawkins (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) and junior Catelyn Dake (Knoxville, Tenn.) are preseason second team All-SAC selections and will both be counted on to provide leadership.

Hawkins turned in two top 15 finishes last season, including a ninth-place showing in the Tusculum Invitational, and also placed 22nd in the SAC Championships. Dake ran in all seven meets for the Lady Eagles in 2008 and had a season-best finish of 14th place in the Tusculum Invitational.

"Cara has gotten better and better each season and has such a zeal for the sport and training that I can't imagine a more fitting honor," Lee said. "Catelyn will be even better this season after getting a full year of longer distance training, especially since she had been so accustomed to training for the 400 and 800 in track."

Senior Tiffany Winchell (White Pine, Tenn.), junior Melissa Ford (Richmond, Va.), senior Audra Jordan (Royston, Ga.) and sophomore Lauren Henry (Greeneville, Tenn.) will also be key contributors for the C-N women.

Four new faces will join the Lady Eagles this season, as Brooke Earhart (Dickson, Tenn.), Meredith Nix (Walhalla, S.C.), Amy Powell (Herber Springs, Ark.) and Rachel Logemann (St. Petersburg, Fla.) make up the 2009 signing class.

"I expect Brooke Earhart and Meredith Nix to have immediate impact on our scoring as we look for the best formula possible to replace Morris," Lee said. "I don't know that we can replace Aubrey, but I'm hopeful to see Brooke develop into that frontrunner role with close support from Meredith."

"I am also eager to work with both Amy and Rachel because of their potential to see significant improvement through the course of this first collegiate season.'

On the men's side, the Eagles were picked to finish fifth in the SAC preseason poll. The Eagles claimed sixth place in the SAC Championships in 2008.

Leading the way for the C-N men this season will be preseason second team All-SAC selection Jonathan Madden (Franklin, Tenn.). Madden, a junior, finished in the top 20 three times last season, including a sixth-place finish in the Belmont Abbey Invitational and an 18th-place finish at the SAC Championships.

"Jon has been on cusp of breaking into All-SAC status each of his two years," Lee said. "And I think he really has a good training base to get him into that top 14 this season."

Senior Wyatt Miles (Long Island, Va.) is another runner to watch for the Eagles this season. Miles had a strong season in 2008, which included two top 20 finishes, and he will be expected to join Madden as a leader of the team.

"Wyatt is completing his career as an Eagle this season and looks to finish things off with his best year yet," Lee said. "He's worked hard each year and has seen improvement in his performance. I don't expect any less of an effort from him and I know he's eager to get things going as well."

Senior Kent Pierson (Middletown, Ohio) and junior Kody Pierson (Middletown, Ohio) return to the team after taking a year off, and junior Ben Fry (Georgetown, Tenn.) will also be a contributor for the Eagles in 2009.

Justin Browning (Madisonville, Tenn.) is the lone newcomer on the C-N men's team this season.

After competing in the Eye Opener Invitational on Saturday, the C-N cross country teams will participate in the Mountaineer Open in Boone, N.C. on Sept. 18. Lee said C-N's 2009 schedule should help gauge where his team stands with other teams from the SAC and the Southeast Region.

"We'll see a SAC or Southeast Regional opponent at every meet we're entered in this season," Lee said. "I don't think we'll see a few of the top tier teams until the SAC or region meets, but we'll still get a pretty good idea of where we rate against the majority of the region."

"If we can keep ourselves healthy, I think some good performances are in store for us. We've been fortunate the last few years to be racing at our best come season's end, and we hope that continues for 2009."