HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University women’s cross country team has been picked first in the 2015 Big South preseason poll, the league announced Tuesday.
After winning its second Big South title in four seasons this past fall, the Panthers were picked to repeat as league champions in a poll conducted by the conference’s head coaches.
High Point received a league-best six first place votes and took the top spot with 109 total points. Liberty was picked second with 108 points (2 first place votes), while Coastal Carolina (3 first place votes) rounded out the top-3 with 105 total points.
“This is definitely a status we’ve earned and it’s exciting to see our program at the top of the poll,” head coach Jenna Wrieden said. “We want to establish a tradition of excellence and ensure we are in the hunt for the conference title each season. This is the best group we’ve ever put together in terms of talent and team culture, and I know we’ll be ready to step on that line and compete for the championship in October.”
Led by Wrieden, the 2014 Big South Coach of the Year, the Panthers return five of their top-7 runners from a year ago, including two Big South all-conference selections in junior Natalia Ocasio and sophomore Kelly Hayes. The Panthers also welcome two freshmen to the roster: Courtney Kerr (Avon, Ind.) and Janelle Rothacker (Ballston Spa, N.Y.).
“Kelly Hayes is going to be very hungry and hard to beat this season,” Wrieden said. “I’m excited to see what the consistency of her training has done for her fitness heading into her sophomore season. And Natalia is fresh off a conference title in the steeplechase and is ready for another outstanding season in cross country.”
The Panthers will be led by a group of six seniors, many of whom put together impressive performances during the 2014-15 track & field campaign.
“We have a great senior class coming back, led by Julia Zautcke who is ready to take a step forward in cross country and mimic her all-conference finishes from track,” Wrieden said. “Katie Farina is also ready to take that next step and Erika Peoples is one of our leaders and she’s extremely passionate about leading our team to another title.”
HPU kicks off the 2015 cross country season on Sept. 4 when the Panthers head to Burlington to compete in the Elon Invitational (6 p.m.). The 2015 Big South Championship is set for Oct. 31 in Spartanburg, S.C.
2015 Big South Women’s Cross Country Preseason Poll
1. High Point (6) – 109
2. Liberty (2) – 108
3. Coastal Carolina (3) – 105
4. Campbell – 84
5. UNC Asheville – 76
6. Radford – 71
7. Winthrop – 57
8. Gardner-Webb – 44
9. Longwood – 30
10. Charleston Southern – 28
11. Presbyterian College – 14