The High Point University women’s cross country team was picked to defend its Big South title in the annual preseason poll by the league’s head coaches, it was announced on Monday. The Panthers placed five runners in the top 10 to win their first conference title in 2011.
High Point collected seven first-place votes and 136 points in the preseason poll, edging Liberty, which totaled 132 points. The Flames received three first-place votes. Coastal Carolina was picked third followed by VMI and Campbell. Winthrop was picked sixth followed by UNC Asheville (sevent), Charleston Southern (eighth), Gardner-Webb (ninth), Radford (10th), Longwood (11th) and Presbyterian (12th).
High Point returns six of its top seven runners, including four All-Big South honorees, from its 2011 championship squad. Juniors Kayleigh Perry and Audrey Malloy placed third and fifth, respectively, at the Big South Championship last fall. Seniors Kelsey Hunt and Kelsey Paine placed seventh and eighth at the 2011 championship.
In addition, sophomores Leah Anne Wirfel, Sarah Dorrell, Lauren Blackwell and Krista Willard all competed in the 2011 championship. Wirfel led that group with a 17th-place finish.
High Point added eight recruits for the 2012 campaign, bringing the squad size to 17 runners this fall. It will be one of the deepest women’s cross country teams that the Panthers have ever had.
HPU opens the season on Friday, Aug. 31, at the Demon Deacon Quad at Wake Forest. The Panthers compete in the Big South Preview Meet on Sept. 15 and look to defend their Big South title at the conference championship on Oct. 27. Both the Big South Preview and Big South Championship will be held at Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C. High Point has two meets in Charlotte, N.C.: the Charlotte Invitational on Oct. 28 and the NCAA Southeast Regional on Nov. 9.