HPU Men’s Cross Country Captures Big South Crown

• The Big South Championship title was the fourth in men’s program history and first since 2004
• Junior Jeff LaCoste won the individual Big South title in a course-record time of 24:59.30; It marked the third straight-season an HPU runner won the individual crown
• HPU took three of the top-5 spots and six of the top-12; the six all-conference selections are a program record
• Both the men’s and women’s teams won the Big South title in the same season for the first time in school history

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C. – The High Point University men’s cross country team dominated the front of the pack en route to its first Big South Championship title in 10 years Saturday morning on the campus of Gardner-Webb University.

After finishing second in each of the past seven seasons, HPU broke through with a purpose Saturday, capturing three of the top five positions and six of the top-12 at the event.

HPU’s six all-conference selections in 2014 are the most in a single-season in program history, breaking the previous high of four set in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Junior Jeff LaCoste took the individual title in a course-record time of 24:59.30, marking the third-straight season that an HPU runner has captured the Big South individual crown.

The Big South title was the fourth in program history and the first since 2004 for the men’s program (2002, 2003, 2004, 2014). The HPU women also captured the league crown in Boiling Springs, 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.

“This victory has been a long time coming for our program,” head coach Mike Esposito said. “It was fun because of how hard our kids prepared. It’s really nice when they get rewarded for that preparation with a championship. We were pretty aggressive early. We talked this week about keeping our poise and just bringing the effort. We knew if we did those two things we’d be fine.”

HPU finished first with 27 points, with Liberty trailing well behind in second with 52. Campbell (75) and Radford (141) took the third and fourth spots, while UNC-Asheville (156), Winthrop (170), Coastal Carolina (184) and Longwood (191) took spots five through eight. Charleston Southern (9th, 289), Gardner-Webb (10th, 305) and Presbyterian (11th, 318) rounded out the meet.

LaCoste paced the Panthers all season, finishing first in HPU’s first three events. After placing second at the 2013 Big South Championship, the first-place finish Saturday put him in the great company of previous HPU individual winners Jacob Smith (2012) and Patrick Crawford (2013).

“Jeff was runner up last year and his improvement has been a very gradual and focused process,” Esposito said. “He’s learning to hold off a bit in his training instead of always going after it. Jeff is a great kid and I’m so happy he got it done today.”

Senior Chris Colo continued his outstanding senior campaign with a third-place showing in a strong time of 25:05.40. The Waxhaw, N.C., native improved 16 spots from his 19th-place finish in 2013.

“I’ve never worked with anyone that’s improved as much over the course of a year and made as much of a commitment as Chris Colo has,” Esposito said. “I’m so pleased for him – he ran on a championship team in high school and he’s kept that championship mentality throughout his HPU career.”

Freshman James Quattlebaum just missed out on Big South Freshman of the Year honors after posting an impressive fifth-place finish (25:24.90) in his first conference meet. Fellow freshman Ryan Udvadia notched his third top-10 of the season, placing 10th in 25:57.90.

“James has been extremely consistent all year,” Esposito said. “He’s not afraid of sticking his nose out there and engaging. He’s been awesome for us. And Ryan is a very talented freshman that’s really performed well in the early going. He’s a great kid and very poised. We’re excited about his future.”

Senior Reece Ayers finished his cross country career with a bang Saturday after putting forth a tremendous effort down the stretch to finish eighth (25:49.40). The showing was his best conference finish by both time and place and ensured he would finish in the top-20 in all four Big South meets of his career.

“Reece has had so many ups and downs with injuries. His finish was one of the most pleasing results for me,” Esposito said. “For him to finish his senior year with such a strong performance was truly a fitting end to a great career. You talk about resilience – he’s hung in there all year and it’s wonderful to see it.”

Rounding out HPU’s all-conference selections was junior Paddy Grandinali, who battled a nagging injury all week to still match his 2013 showing with a 12th-place finish (25:58.90).

“Paddy hasn’t ran for a week due to injury,” Esposito said. “Our trainers did a great job just to get him out here today. It was important for our team that Paddy was out there – he’s our emotional leader.”

Junior Benji Szalai posted the best conference finish of his career Saturday (17th, 26:15.10), while sophomore Chernet Sisay improved eight spots from his 2013 finish to place 20th in 26:24.20. Fellow sophomore Vinny Todaro also notched a top-25 finish for HPU.

Sophomore Mason Lenox finished 30th in his first-ever conference meet (27:22.70).

“We have a lot of leaders on this team and it’s been a joy to coach them,” Esposito said. “The most overriding theme of this group is that they have each other’s back no matter what the situation. I’m looking forward to NCAA Regionals in two weeks.”

The NCAA Southeast Regional will be held Nov. 14 in Louisville, Ky.