LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- It was a memorable year for both Covenant cross country teams as they competed in the NCAA Division III and the USA South Athletic Conference for the first time.
Under third-year head coach Katie Stanford, the two programs experienced fantastic seasons. The men captured the USA South title while women's runner Beth Burgess claimed the top individual spot in the conference meet and later broke a school record.
The men had three team titles on the season beginning with the Scots Opener in August. In that 5k, Covenant dominated conference foe Maryville to earn the first victory of the season. Four weeks later on Sept. 28, the men placed better than any other Division III school at the Greensboro Invitational, led by junior Stephen Dillon's 20th place finish.
But the race the men's team most looked forward to was the USA South Conference meet in early November. Competing on the same course from the Greensboro Invitational, the men used that to their advantage as they beat out Methodist for the conference title, the eighth in program history. Dillon was once again at the head of the pack as he finished second, but the junior was joined by seniors Zach Smith and Matt Gorter who finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Dillon, Smith, and Gorter all earned first team All-Conference while junior Jack Williams finished 13th at the conference meet to earn second team honors.
"The men wanted to win the conference and they went for it and didn't hold back," said Stanford. "It was close. We knew Methodist had gotten stronger late in the season and that they would be on our backs. Stephen had the best race of his career and he, Sean Hagstrom (Maryville) and Sydney Machokoto (Methodist) did a great job of pushing each other early on."
Although the women fell just short of a USA South title, placing second behind a strong Meredith squad, they also had a phenomenal season that was capped by Burgess' individual USA South crown and later a program record.
First, Burgess, a junior from Nicholasville, Ky., had two victories on the year including at the conference meet where she ran the 6k in a time of 24:51.1 en route to the top spot.
"I am so proud of Beth," remarked Stanford about Burgess after the meet. "I told her she could win and that she could take it out from the start and that's exactly what she did. She made the decision at the beginning to win this race and never looked back."
However Burgess' outstanding season did not end there. As the teams competed in the NCAA Regional meet for the first time in school history, the junior made history of her own as she broke the program record in the 6k with a time of 23:58. The time was two seconds faster than the previous mark set by Hannah Matthews in 2010.
"I am so excited for Beth. Adding a school record to all her other accomplishments this season is icing on the cake," added Stanford.
All told, the women had three team victories on the year beginning with the Scots Opener, followed by the Greensboro Invitational, and capped with a title at the Maryville Invitational.
In the NCAA meet, a combined nine runners set new personal marks. On the women's side, Burgess, Hankal, junior Alicia Zanoni, and Eaves set new personal records. The men had Dillon, Gorter, Williams along with freshmen Hunter Rasmussen and Eliot Gardner run personal bests.
It was a tremendous season for both programs as they broke new ground in school history with a conference title and strong showings throughout the year.
"I have been very blessed to work with this group of kids this year," said Stanford about her teams. "We are going to miss Matt (Gorter) and Zach (Smith). They have done a great job leading this team and preparing our freshman."
USA South Runner of the Week
Beth Burgess (3 times - Sept. 16, Sept. 30, Oct. 21)
Stephen Dillon (Sept. 30)
All-Conference - Men
Stephen Dillon - 1st team
Zach Smith - 1st team
Matt Gorter - 1st team
Jack Williams - 2nd team; All-Sportsmanship
All-Conference - Women
Beth Burgess - 1st team
Spookie Eaves - 1st team
Esther Anderson - 2nd team
Anna Hankal - 2nd team
Ruthie Cargill - All-Sportsmanship
**This is the second in a week-long series recapping the fall sports season at Covenant. Below are links and a schedule to the rest of the season recaps.
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