LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- The Covenant cross country teams are set to compete at the USA South Conference Championships on Saturday at Hagan Stone Park in Greensboro, N.C. The men will kick off the day with their 8k event at 11 a.m., while the women will follow with a 6k race at noon.
The Covenant men are the defending conference champions and have looked strong again this year. The conference title was Covenant's eighth in program history and the first official conference championship won at the Division III level for the College.
Leading the way for the Scots all season has been freshman Eliot Kaufmann. The freshman from New York, N.Y., was named USA South Runner and Rookie of the Year on Tuesday. Kaufmann became the second runner in conference history to earn both awards. Kaufmann's best time of the year in an 8k came in Covenant's last event when he posted a time of 27:11 in the Berry Invitational.
Sophomore Graham Massot has also had an immediate impact on the team in his first year at Covenant. The transfer from Wheaton (Ill.) has three top 10 finishes on the year and his best 8k time came at the Sewanee Invitational (27:51.6). Freshman John Weaks has come on strong recently, while seniors Stephen Dillon and Jack Williams have been steady this season and bring championship experience from last year.
In last year's event, Covenant had three top 10 finishers in Dillon (2nd), Zach Smith (5th) and Matt Gorter (6th). Williams placed 13th and Hunter Rasmussen was 17th. The Scots' 43 total points were 15 better than second place Methodist.
On the women's side, senior Beth Burgess looks to repeat as the individual champion and lead her team to a championship.
Burgess became the second Covenant women's runner in three years to win a conference meet, matching Tera Woods' GSAC title in 2011. Burgess, a senior from Nicholasville, Ky., has been even better this season. The senior was named USA South Runner of the Year on Tuesday and has two individual wins this year and four top 10 finishes. She broke her own school record in the 6k at the Sewanee Invitational with a time of 23:44.
Much like the men's team, the women have also received solid seasons from freshman runners. Abby Irwin has steadily improved each week this year and had her best race of the season at the Berry Invitational at 25:24 en route to being named USA South Rookie of the Week. Fellow freshman Margaret Fitch is a three-time USA South Rookie of the Week and had a 6k time of 26:27 at the Sewanee Invitational.
Junior Ruthie Cargill has made the biggest leap among the returning women's runners this year. Cargill has set personal records seemingly every week and she was named USA South Runner of the Week on Sept. 29 after posting a 5k time of 20:38 in the University of North Georgia Invitational. Cargill set a new personal best in the 6k at the Berry Invitational with a time of 24:52.
Covenant placed second to Meredith at last year's event. The women finished with 56 points with four runners inside the top 15 and two inside the top five.
Head coach Katie Stanford, coming off being named Coach of the Year on the men's side in the USA South, believes her two teams can both compete for conference titles.
"We have been preparing for this meet all season long and we are excited and ready to go," said Stanford, who is in her fourth year. "They have set some great goals for themselves and I'm looking forward to watching them reach those goals and come together as a team."
For more information on the USA South Conference Championships, visit the official USA South Championships page