• The Big South title was High Point’s second in the past four seasons (2011, 2014)
• The HPU women and men’s cross country teams won the Big South title in the same year for the first time in program history
• Sophomore Natalia Ocasio (9th, 18:50.05) and freshman Kelly Hayes (10th, 18:51.83) each ran collegiate-best times to earn all-conference honors
BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – The High Point University women’s cross country team executed its game plan to perfection en route to winning the Big South Championship for the second time in four years Saturday morning on the campus of Gardner-Webb University.
Just 20 seconds separated HPU’s first and fifth-place finishers, and that group running pushed the Panthers past Coastal Carolina and into a first-place showing. Although CCU took spots three, five and six in the race, HPU had all five scorers at positions nine-through-18 to secure the victory.
“I think the girls really bought into running for each other and running together as a unit,” head coach Jenna Wrieden said. “Our runners performed tremendously and exhibited great poise and energy. They showed up to win and they won. I’m so proud of what they accomplished today.”
The HPU men also captured the league crown, marking the first time in HPU program history that both the men’s and women’s teams have won the Big South Championship in the same season. The victory was the HPU women’s second Big South title in program history (2011, 2014).
“It’s hard to explain this feeling,” Wrieden said. “One of the reasons why I’m here at High Point is because of Coach Esposito. He sets such a great example for our program and for him to finally get the win was so wonderful. We all knew that was coming. To be able to match that and be a part of that on both sides was very humbling. I couldn’t ask to be in a better place or with better people. I’m very proud of our programs.”
HPU won the title with 67 points, followed by Liberty in second with 73. Radford (81), Campbell (83) and Coastal Carolina (87) took positions three through five, while UNC-Asheville (109), Gardner-Webb (210) and Winthrop (212) finished six through eight. Charleston Southern (9th, 248), Longwood (10th, 295) and Presbyterian (11th, 304) rounded out the field in Boiling Springs.
Sophomore Natalia Ocasio ran arguably the best 6K of her career Saturday en route to a ninth-place finish in a collegiate-best time of 18:50.05. Freshman Kelly Hayes was right behind in 10th and also set a college personal best with a time of 18:51.83. Both runners were named all-conference for their excellent performances.
“Natalia’s top-10 finish was not a surprise,” Wrieden said. “We’ve both seen signs of this performance in practice. To see her continuing to pick people off and run faster and faster, it’s culminated to her finishing as our top runner and being named all-conference. Kelly’s one of the toughest and grittiest people I know. She’s had her ups and downs during her freshman season but I know I can always count on her. She ran very well today.”
Junior Cozette Collin finished 13th in a time of 18:56.48, while senior Leah Anne Wirfel was 17th in a time of 19:08.34. Junior Katie Farina rounded out the HPU top-5 with an 18th-place showing (19:10.19).
“I would like to credit Cozette because she really ran for the team today even if it wasn’t her best day individually,” Wrieden said. “Leah Anne has always been consistent for us this season and Katie truly performed in a vital position. She’s very resilient and she brought that 1-to-5 spread to 20 seconds today. That’s the closest it’s been all year and it’s the reason we won.”
Senior Krista Willard placed 27th in 19:31.28 while junior Erika Peoples was 33rd in 19:38.85. Senior Sarah Dorrell finished 37th in 19:53.58 and freshman Lona Williams placed 46th (20:17.92) in the first conference meet of her career.
“I’d like to recognize and personally thank our senior class for their program-defining impact on our team and our culture,” Wrieden said. “To win two championships in four years and really set the tone both on and off the course, I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The Panthers will now prepare for two weeks before heading to Louisville, Ky., to race in the NCAA Southeast Regional on Nov. 14.