NEWBERRY – The South Atlantic Conference’s top cross country runners are set to descend upon Columbia Saturday at the 24th running of the SAC Cross Country Championships.
Newberry will serve as the host institution for the meet’s second-ever visit to the Palmetto State and first since 2008, which was held at Crooked Creek Park in Chapin and saw the Mars Hill men and Lenoir-Rhyne women emerge victorious.
This year’s version will take place at the Sandhill Research and Education Center in northeast Columbia. The course is located on property originally established as an agricultural research facility in conjunction with Clemson University in 1926. Sandhill is home to several prestigious annual cross country events, including the South Carolina high school state championship meets in every classification.
“It’s a privilege for Newberry College to host the South Atlantic Conference Cross Country Championship,” said Newberry Interim Director of Athletics Ralph Patterson. “Sandhill is a fantastic venue, and we look forward to a great competition.”
The men will begin the day’s festivities with an eight kilometer (4.97 mile) race at 9:00 a.m. Mars Hill has traditionally dominated the event, winning 18 championships in a row from 1997-2014 and placing 119 runners on all-conference teams throughout the years.
The Lions, however, will enter the weekend looking to reclaim their spot atop the conference after Queens placed all five scorers in the top ten a season ago. But Mars Hill got its revenge in the postseason, placing first among SAC institutions at the Southeast Region meet and turning in a 25th-place finish at the NCAA Championships, seven spots ahead of Queens, to finish tops among teams from the region.
“Mars Hill has five runners that could finish inside the top 15 from the times that I’ve seen,” forecasted Newberry head coach Phil Peterson. “If they perform that well, I think they could snatch the title back. The battle for second will probably be between Queens and Anderson. Anderson has a couple of great kids, but Queens might be stronger in the third through fifth runners.”
The women’s race will cover five kilometers (3.11 miles) and begin at 10:15 a.m. as teams look to unseat Wingate, which has won the last three conference championships in dominant fashion. The Bulldogs earned a third straight bid to the NCAA Championships last season after placing three runners in the top 14 at the Southeast Region meet. Queens also represented the SAC at last year’s national championships.
“Queens runners have three of the top five times in the conference this year and could place five runners inside the top 20,” said Peterson. “They’ll be really tough to beat. I think Wingate and Anderson are the next two teams in line. It could come down to which of their fifth runners comes in first to keep their team scores low.”
As the event’s host, the Newberry athletic department is responsible for securing the course, hiring a timing company, providing staffers to administer the event in conjunction with the SAC office, coordinating the awards ceremony, and producing pre- and post-meet publicity.
“It’s quite an honor to be involved with hosting any type of championship event,” said Director of Athletic Communications Randall Stewart. “With all of our other teams on the road Saturday, we can devote nearly all of our resources as a department into making this an event to be proud of.”
Parking and admission to the SAC Cross Country Championships are free. Gates at the Sandhill Research and Education Center open Saturday at 7:00 a.m.