High Point University was picked No. 2 in the Big South Preseason Poll for men’s cross country, it was announced on Monday. The Panthers have finished second in the conference championship five times in a row.
Seven-time defending Big South champ Liberty University was picked to win again, receiving a unanimous vote. The Panthers received all 12 second-place votes. Campbell was picked third followed by VMI and Winthrop. Coastal Carolina was picked sixth followed by Radford (seventh), UNC Asheville (eighth), Charleston Southern (ninth), Gardner-Webb (10th), Longwood (11th) and Presbyterian (12th).
High Point features six returners from last year’s Big South runner-up squad, including overall second-place finisher Jacob Smith and third-place finisher Patrick Crawford. Last spring, Smith became the Panthers’ first NCAA Championship qualifier in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
The Panthers also return senior Dakota Peachee, who placed 15th at last year’s Big South Championship, along with sophomore Reece Ayers. Ayers took 16th and was the 2011 Big South Freshman of the Year.
Junior John Yankello placed 21st and sophomore Chris Colo placed 24th at the conference championship last year. The Panthers will also benefit from the return of Jeff LaCoste, who redshirted his freshman year after prep career that included an appearance in the Footlocker National Championship.
HPU added seven recruits for the upcoming season, including Benji Szalai, a four-time Hungarian junior national champion.
The Panthers kick off the 2012 season at the Demon Deacon Quad at Wake Forest on Friday, Aug. 31. HPU competes in two meets at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.: the Big South Preview on Sept. 15 at the Big South Championship on Oct. 27. HPU has two meets in Charlotte, N.C.: the Charlotte Invitational on Oct. 28 and the NCAA Southeast Regional on Nov. 9. The Panthers’ longest-distance meet is Chile Pepper Festival, a 10K, at the University of Arkansas on Oct. 13.