By: Greg Peterson, Staff Writer
It seems the only thing that can deter the Furman men’s and women’s cross country team is Hurricane Florence. No, really. Both the men’s and women’s teams have won their respective season openers this year and Southern Conference (SoCon) championships for the past five seasons.
The Paladins began their season at the Eye Opener Invitational in Spartanburg Sept. 7. To the surprise of no one, both the men and women won the Eye Opener Invitational titles. In fact, this is the third straight season they clinched this title.
The Paladin women are returning seven of their eight top runners from last season, who saw a seventh place finish in the NCAA Championships. The men’s program features senior Aaron Templeton who was named the 2017 SoCon Runner of the Year and received five 2017 All-SoCon selections.
For the men, the top six finishers in the 8K all wore the purple and white of the Paladins. Sophomore Daniel Bernal was the first finisher and won the individual title with a time of 25:36.7. Freshman Cameron Ponder, junior Mason Coppi, junior Jake Ogden, junior Allen Clark and sophomore Trent Mandato rounded out the next five finishers, respectively.
Junior Gabbi Jennings won the women’s individual title in the 5K with a time of 17:53.3. The Paladins claimed seven of the top nine spots. Junior Riley Burr and junior Emma Grace Hurley rounded out the top three.
Furman was scheduled for a week off after the Eye Opener Invitational in order to prepare for their home opener, the Furman Invitational. However, due to concerns about Hurricane Florence the Sept. 15 meet was cancelled.
Despite the unfortunate cancellation, it seems to have no bearing on the national perception of both programs. The U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Poll released on Sept. 18 has the women’s team ranked at 13th in the nation and the men’s team at 29th.
The success of both programs can be credited to head coach Robert Gary. Gary coaches both the men’s and women’s programs. He has been named the SoCon Coach of the Year for the past five seasons and was the 2017 Furman J. Lyles Alley Coach of the Year.
Dating back to 2013, the Paladins have dominated their opponents, and that domination will continue in the coming season. A SoCon championship almost seems like a given each year, and the ongoing success of the cross country program has led me to wonder what was life was like before the Paladins started their successful reign of the winners podium.
The first Hunger Games film was opening in theatres, Taylor Swift was still attending the Country Music Awards, Lebron James won his first NBA championship and Justin Bieber celebrated his 18th birthday the last time Furman was not atop the SoCon.
Although times have changed, the Paladins determination to improve has not. Furman looks to continue their success at the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational on Friday, Sept. 28.