The High Point University women’s cross country team was picked to finish second in the 2013 Big South Preseason Poll, the conference announced Tuesday. The Panthers received 130 points to finish four points shy of Liberty. The team will begin its season on Friday at Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C. at 6 p.m.
High Point finished third in the Big South Championship last year after winning the 2011 championship. The top of the standings in the Big South are wide-open after six out of the top 10 finishers in last year’s championship race have graduated. Following Liberty and High Point in the preseason poll was Costal Carolina and Winthrop. Campbell and UNC Asheville tied for fifth. Behind them were VMI, Radford, Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb. Longwood and Presbyterian rounded out the poll.
High Point has three seniors on this year’s squad, Kayleigh Perry, Audrey Malloy and Colleen Hollowood, who will all be integral to the team’s success.
“We will rely heavily on our seniors and the culture of the team this year,” said HPU women’s head coach Jenna Wrieden. “If the leadership, culture and commitment of the team are all there then the process we go through will lead us to our ultimate goal of a Big South Championship.”
Perry will look to once again place in the top five in conference this year after finishing fifth last year and third in 2011. Malloy and Hollowood will be looked at to contribute more this season after finishing 17th and 32nd respectively at the championship last year. Malloy, who finished fifth in the 2011 Big South Championship meet, dedicated a lot of time this summer to cross training in hopes of improving in the standings this year. Hollowood is coming off a tremendous spring, including a third place finish in the 800-meter.
“I can name several girls who could be in our top seven,” said Wrieden. “I can definitely foresee a lot of interchanging of people within the top seven, which will be motivating to the individuals and as a program is a great problem to encounter.”
Junior Lauren Blackwell, who set the indoor school record in the 5K at 17:34:51, is also expected to contribute heavily. Blackwell took 19th place at last year’s Big South Championship. In addition, Katie Farina will also look to improve on last year when she finished 26th as a freshman. Sarah Bode, Sarah Dorrell, Erika Peoples, Lindsey Siska, Krista Willard, Leah Anne Wirfel and Julia Zautcke are all returners that will add depth and compete for top spots.
High Point only loses Kelsey Hunt, who placed sixth in last year’s conference championship. The team added two freshmen to this year’s team, Cozette Collin and Natalia Ocasio, who could contribute right away for the Panthers. Collin was a part of the senior girl’s cross country team that won the Brant County Athletic Association championship in 2011-12. Ocasio was a four-time first-team All-Conference and five-time All-American in track in high school.
“Both of our freshmen have a lot of strength in the middle distances on the track,” said Wrieden. “I also believe they both have an unforeseen and untapped potential in cross country.”
This will be the team’s first time running at Western Carolina. The team will compete next on Sept. 14 in Greensville, S.C. at the Furman Cross Country Classic. The following weekend, Sept. 21, the team will travel to Buena Vista, Va. for the VMI Invitational. This year’s Big South Championship race will be held Nov. 2 in Lexington, Va.