Bears Ready for A-Sun Cross Country Championships Saturday
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mercer University cross country head coach Ryan Bailey is looking for some big things from his teams at Saturday’s (Oct. 29) Atlantic Sun Conference championships, being run at the Percy Warner Horse Park in Nashville. The men’s eight-kilometer race steps off at 10 a.m., followed by the women’s five-kilometer run at 10:45 a.m.
Bailey believes both the Bears men’s and women’s squads are primed for a peak performance.
On the men’s side, Mercer’s team has been lead in every race this season by sophomore Sony Prosper, who has a top time of 25:24.42 in the 8K. That’s the ninth-fastest time run by an A-Sun member this season.
However, the Bears’ forte is that its top five runners all have personal record times within 33 seconds of each other and four of those team members – Prosper, junior Jacob Law, junior Chris Svidesskis and senior Marc Kushinka – have all run their PR’s during the 2011 campaign. Law’s has a 25:35.35, followed by Svidesskis at 25:38.78 and Kushinka at 25:49.30. Junior Andrew Weems ran his personal best time of 25:57.28 last season.
“The gap between fifth and first keeps closing,” Bailey said of his men’s entrants. “My feeling is that it could look like and ‘Indian run’ with all five members finishing within 15 seconds of each other; it’s quite possible.
“The training has been excellent this year and it’s really coming together at the right time. I think they are ready to pull each other along and, with a group this tight, that could be a powerful thing.”
Mercer’s men’s roster of competitors in the A-Sun meet will also include sophomore Kasib Abdullah, freshman Jeff Law, freshman Josh Pendley and senior Geremy Skeen.
On the women’s ledger, Bailey’s squad is led by junior Kacie Niemann. Niemann has been the Bears’ top finisher at the A-Sun meet in each of her first two seasons, earning A-Sun All-Freshman honors in 2009 with a 13th place and coming in 18th in 2010.
Niemann already owns six of the top seven 5K times in Mercer school history, including setting the top two clocking this season. Her season-opening time of 18:07.34 currently serves as the Bears’ record. However, with a total of eight sub-19-minute career 5K’s to her credit, Bailey believes Niemann may have even better things in store.
“The key for Kacie is to get her to start out at the right pace and then get faster,” explained Bailey. “She sometimes has a tendency to go out too fast. If we can keep (her pace) under control I think she can go well under 18 minutes; there’s no doubt in my mind.
“We just have to put it together and let it happen.”
The sophomore duo of Sammy Woller and Lena Hamvas both have finished as either the team’s second or third runner in the majority of races. Each also led the team in races – Woller at the Georgia southwestern race and Hamvas at Mercer’s RunFit Sports Invitational – while Niemann was on the shelf for two weeks.
“Both Sammy and Lena have been running very well,” Bailey said. “I really don’t have any fears about their performance.”
Senior Christina Kivi will close out her 5K career for the Bears at the A-Sun championships. Sophomore Kylen Hughes has also had a break-out season in 2011 and Bailey sees her as the “pivotal” runner who can enhance the team’s finish.
“I believe the women’s team has a good chance at running sub-19 average as a team,” Bailey said. “That would be the fastest average we’ve ever had as a team. Historically (in the A-Sun), that would put us near the top five teams.”
Other members of the women’s squad entered in the A-Sun race are sophomore Caley Cranford, freshman Illeana Garcia and junior Kasie Knapper.
Bailey also feels that the course sets up well for his teams. “We took a look at the course on our way back from Kentucky and it’s really not that tough of a course. If you compare it to our home course (Georgia Industrial Children’s Home), it’s easier. Our course is much hillier and more difficult. I think we should be all over this course.”