CULLOWHEE, N.C. - Nearly 500 runners will descend on the campus of Western Carolina University Saturday morning as the Catamounts host the Western Carolina Invitational. Just over 100 of those competitors will be from the college ranks while the remaining 400 will come from the high school and middle school teams competing.
This marks the ninth-straight year the Catamounts have opened the season by hosting the Western Carolina Invitational. The 2015 event will feature college teams from Piedmont, College of Charleston, UNC Asheville and North Carolina A&T.
“We are looking forward to getting the competition portion of the season going,” said head men’s and women’s cross country coach Danny Williamson. “Our kids are excited to compete as a team to see where we are at with our training. This meet should be a very competitive situation for both of our young squads.”
Both the Western Carolina men’s and women’s squads come in with very young rosters. The men have just four returners including senior Jamie Bigby, juniors Tommy Connell and JC Cornett and redshirt freshman Kevin Pack. The rest of the men’s roster is compiled of 12 freshmen. Despite the young roster, the men were selected fifth in the Southern Conference Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing sixth at last year’s championship. Both Cornett and Bigby finished in WCU’s top-five at last season’s NCAA Cross Country Southeast Regional and look to lead the young squad this season.
The women’s roster has more returners but is nearly just as young as the men’s squad. The women return seniors Kaitlyn Shetler and Michaela Williams and sophomores Laney Browder, Madison Goode, Katarina Ruehl, Imani Stewart and Ashley Taylor. The women’s squad also has 10 freshmen runners rounding out the roster. The women were selected seventh in the SoCon Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing tied for sixth at last year’s championship. Both Browder and Goode finished in WCU’s top-five at last season’s NCAA Cross Country Southeast Regional and will be the front runners heading into this season for the Catamounts.
Following Saturday’s meet, the two squad will compete on the following two Saturdays at the Furman Invitational and UNC Asheville Invitational before taking a two week break. They will return to action Oct. 3 at the USC Upstate Invitational before returning home Oct. 16 for the WCU Catamount Classic on Oct. 16.
The 2015 Western Carolina Invitational will feature high school programs from Cherokee, Pisgah, Highlands, Rabun Gap, Franklin, Smoky Mountain, Robbinsville, Tuscola, Swain, Franklin Innovation, Hayesville, Mount Pleasant and Forsyth Central. The middle school teams traveling to Cullowhee are Flat Rock, Canton Middle, Mountain Discovery, Waynesville Middle, Macon Middle, Jackson County Middle, Robbinsville Middle, Cherokee Middle, Highlands Middle and Franklin Innovation.
The college men’s race begins at 9 am followed by the college women at 9:30 am. The men will complete a 5K course while the women will run a two mile event. The high school boys follow at 10 am while the high school girls take off at 10:30 am. Both the high school boys and girls will complete the 5K distance. The middle school boys take off at 11 am and the final event of the day, the middle school girls, will begin at 11:25 am. Both the boys and girls middle school races will be two miles in length.