VIDEO: Tyler Stepp Interview
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn.—Following three tune ups during the fall season, the Carson-Newman cross country team is set to compete in the 2016 South Atlantic Conference Championships Saturday morning in Columbia, S.C. with hopes of improving upon its fourth and 10th-place tallies from a year ago.
"The kids are really excited. Championship times usually brings out championships results, so we are hoping that is the case for us this weekend," coach Tyler Stepp said. "We ran very well in our last meet at Charlotte and I think we have a lot to be excited about."
Originally slated to take place in Brevard, N.C., the SAC moved the event to Palmetto State at the Clemson Sandhill research & Education Center. The men will take part in an eight-kilometer run at 10 a.m. while the women compete in a five-kilometer race to kick off the day at 9 a.m.
Having competed in only three meets this fall, Stepp believes both the men and women's squads are fully rested and able for the most part to make the most of the conference tilt. The transformation was a big one as the Eagles had already competed in six meets a year ago before taking part in the SAC Championships.
"We are healthy for the most part right now. [Coach] Brewer has done a great job with our training to keep everyone healthy all season long," Stepp said. "This year, we didn't want to race just to be racing. We put a focus more on our training and to do the smaller things right. We want timely running and for every race to count, so that's why we took a load off in preparation for the championships this season."
In the meet a season ago, the women's fourth-place tally was the best finish at the conference meet since the 2011 season where C-N concluded the event with a fourth-place finish as well. Priscah Jemeli (Eldorett, Kenya) led the way on the women's side with a ninth-place finish en route to an All-Freshman squad honor.
The men, on the other hand did, not finish as well as their female teammates as C-N's club wrapped up the event with a 10th-place showing.
Both Wingate and Queens were picked preseason to win the conference after the Bulldogs took home the top-crown on the women's side a season ago with the Royals' men finishing first-overall as well. Carson-Newman's squads were picked to conclude the Championships with fourth and 10th-place finishes in the preseason polls—just as they wrapped up the 2015 league meet.
The Eagles began the season on a high note as the women brought home first-place finishes at both the Tusculum Open and Maryville College Invitational to begin the season. The man came home with a second-place tally at the season-opening meet at Tusculum before winning the Maryville College Invitational a week later.
In the final tune up before the SAC Championships, Carson-Newman took part in a 20-plus team event at the Royals Challenge where the women finished 26th and the men 35th. Stepp believes that competing on the larger scale strengthened his club in preparation for the conference meet.
"I think the Royals Challenge gave us a little bit of perspective. I think we saw the bigger picture against good runners that were preparing us for the conference meet," Stepp said. "We have a lot of talented teams in our conference, so seeing people run at that meet allowed our kids to be prepared and to not have anything they haven't seen come this weekend."
A complete recap of the SAC Championships can be found online at cneagles.com following the conclusion of the meet. Fans are also encouraged to stay up to date on Carson-Newman cross country on Twitter at @CNathletics.