HPU Women’s cross country releases 2016 schedule

HIGH POINT, N.C. – The two-time defending Big South champion women’s cross country team has released its 2016 schedule.

The Panthers will race in a pair of prominent national events – the Furman Classic and Adidas XC Challenge – and also take part in a number of local meets to compete against Big South opponents and prep for October’s league meet.

“The main focus of this schedule is to prep for the Big South Championship,” two-time Big South Coach of the Year Jenna Wrieden said. “With this set of events, we face some good league competition but also race in the heart of high-end Div. I talent against some of the top teams in the nation. That mix of ACC talent and conference preparation should set us up well to compete for a league title.”

HPU opens the season on Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Elon Open, a 4K race on the campus of Elon University. From there, the Panthers head to Greenville, S.C., for a berth in the nationally-competitive 6K, the Furman Classic (Sept. 10). HPU then makes the short trip to Cary, N.C., to race in the Adidas XC Challenge on Sept. 16.

“The Adidas Challenge is a high-end competition where our top runners can compete up front,” Wrieden said. “It will be a good opportunity for us to build confidence early in the season. The Furman Classic is similarly competitive and is set up extremely well by the Paladins. We’re looking forward to both of those competitions in September.”

The Panthers open October with 5K events at UNC Asheville (Oct. 1) and Wake Forest (Oct. 14) before taking a two-week competitive break to prepare for the Big South Championship. The annual league meet will be hosted by Charleston Southern University on Oct. 29.

HPU then will send a limited group to the Three Stripe Invitational on Nov. 5 in Cary before racing in the NCAA Southeast Regional on Nov. 11 in Earlysville, Va.

The Panthers return a pair of all-conference selections in 2016. Rising senior Cozette Collin placed sixth at last season’s conference meet and will look to earn a top-3 finish as a senior in 2016. Fellow rising senior Natalia Ocasio – a two-time all-Big South pick in cross country – placed seventh at the championship in 2015.

Collin and Ocasio are coming off outstanding 2016 outdoor seasons and will be brimming with confidence in the fall. Collin won the Big South 1500-meter title with a meet record time 4:27.23. In addition, the Canadian talent placed third in the 5000m run and was fourth in the 800-meter to pick up an impressive 21 points for the Panthers.

Ocasio became the first back-to-back 3000m steeplechase champion in Big South history while cruising to the league title in 10:53.56. Ocasio broke her own HPU school record of 10:29.27 in the event at the Virginia Challenge and advanced to the NCAA preliminary for the first time in her career.

“Natalia and Cozette are coming off arguably the best seasons of their careers this spring,” Wrieden said. “That’s a reflection of being in the program for three years and I expect that success to carry over to cross country. They are both ready to take big steps in cross country and I’m excited to see them progress this season.”

In addition, the Panthers welcome back Courtney Kerr, who battled through injuries as a freshman but is back to full strength and ready to make a big impact as a sophomore. The Panthers also will feature rising sophomore Keaton Case in cross country this season after the Springboro, Ohio, product put together a strong freshman campaign in track & field.

“We’re pumped to have Courtney back healthy,” Wrieden said. “She has a strong work ethic and is an excellent teammate. Keaton Case also has an outstanding range in ability and I expect her strengths on the track will carry over to the cross county course. We are very happy to have Keaton as a member of our team this fall.”

The Panthers also will welcome a quartet of incoming freshmen into the cross country roster that will add depth and talent to the team. The group includes Charis Dinger (Manheim, Pa.), Zoe Geis (Center Valley, Pa.), Kylie Hennessey (Waxhaw, N.C.) and Catherine Matteo (Manhasset, N.Y.). A detailed write up on the incoming women’s cross country class will be released in the coming weeks.