The Francis Marion University men's and women's cross country teams will open their 2018 seasons on Friday (Sept. 7) when the Patriots participate in the Coastal Carolina University Invitational Meet.
The event will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the women's 5,000-meter race, followed immediately by the men's 5K race. Both will be held on the Hackler Golf Course on the campus of CCU in Conway.
The Patriot women return four juniors runners – Alexis Byers, Emma Driggers, Alison Filer, and Jasmine Watson – while also adding junior Andrea Liddell, a native of Manning, S.C., and a transfer from Spartanburg Methodist College.
Long-time FMU head coach Mark Bluman commented, "Our returnees have gotten better and I can't say enough good things about our new addition. Andrea has led us in nearly all our workouts. Buoyed by a very productive summer of work by Alison, these two runners will likely lead us in our meets this year.
"Team chemistry is good, but we must avoid injuries and illnesses to succeed in 2018."
Filer was the team's Most Valuable Runner last season after leading FMU in five of six races. As a freshman in 2016, Driggers was the Patriots' top finisher in five of six events, including winning the Monarch Cross Country Classic, and was the squad's MVP. Byers, Driggers, and Watson were all named to the 2017 Peach Belt Conference All-Academic Team.
The FMU men's squad includes two seniors (Brandon Boggs and Robert Hahn); one junior (Ivan Henderson), and five freshmen: Parker Calvert (North Charleston, SC), Christian England (Charleston, SC), Matthew Mendelsohn (Greenville, SC), John Talbert (Mount Croghan, SC), and Wyatt Witman (Charleston, SC).
"Our men's squad is definitely one of the youngest in recent memory. However, our five newcomers all come from solid winning programs. They know how to win, and I project that feeling will carry over into the 2018 campaign. They are also very hungry and very positive, and they want to build on the opportunity they have before them to run at the collegiate level.
"That being said, one of the keys to our success will be how quickly they adjust to slightly longer distances and the quality of runners at the college level.
"Parker has led the squad during the preseason and I look for him to battle Ivan for our top finishing spot during the 2018 campaign, with Wyatt and Christian certainly being in the mix to occupy one of our scoring positions."
Following the CCU meet, the Patriots will run in the Jaguar XC Invitational Meet on Sept. 15 at Beech Island, S.C.; the Royals Cross Country Challenge on Sept. 28 in Charlotte, N.C.; the Koala Classic Cross Country Invitational Meet on Oct. 6 in Columbia, S.C.; and the Sand Shark XC Invite on Oct. 20 in Hardeeville, S.C. The 2018 Peach Belt Conference Championship Meet will be held Nov. 3, also at Beech Island.
Both Francis Marion squads garnered All-Academic Team recognition from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association following the 2017 season as the men posted a 3.41 cumulative grade point average and the women a 3.29 GPA.