TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The University of Alabama men's and women's cross country teams begin the championship portion of their 2010 schedule at Monday's Southeastern Conference Championships in Columbia, S.C.
The Championships, hosted by South Carolina on the grounds of the U.S. Army's Fort Jackson, will feature all 11 men's teams and 12 women's teams competing for the title of SEC Champion. The women will take to the course first with their 6-kilometer race beginning at 9 a.m. CT. The men will follow an hour later with an 8-kilometer race.
The No. 27 Crimson Tide men's squad enters the race as the back-to-back defending SEC Champions and will be taking aim at becoming the first program other than Arkansas to win three straight titles since 1985. Standing in the way of that feat will be a resurgent Arkansas squad that is currently ranked 10th and has five runners that have turned in 8-kilometer performances that rank in the top eight in the SEC this season. Florida is the other ranked squad in the field, checking in one spot higher than the Tide in 26th.
In his last competition, UA's Julius Bor turned in the squad's top 8-kilometer time of the season with a 23:57.60 finish to take 12th place at the Pre-National Meet. Carison Kemei, who finished as one of the Tide's top two runners all year, has the second fastest 8-kilometer time on the season with a 24:00.00 mark set at the Notre Dame Invitational. Three-time SEC Coach of the Year Joe Walker is hopeful that those two, along with the Tide's other competitors can improve upon those times on a course that is relatively flat and, barring any inclement weather, is expected to be fast.
The women's team will look to build upon last year's fifth-place finish and put together back-to-back fifth place or higher finishes for the first time since 1998. Plenty of momentum will be carried into Monday's meet as three runners turned in personal best 6-kilometer times in the team's last competition at the Pre-National Meet.
Junior Leigh Gilmore has run the fastest 6-kilometer time for UA this season with a 21:42.90 finish while classmate Andrea Torske has consistently improved her personal best all season and has shaved nearly a minute off her 6-kilometer best this season with a top time of 22:02.80. Kelsey Johnson is the Tide's only returning SEC runner that has scored consistently this season and the junior will be looking to return to the form that saw her earn the honor in 2008 and finish as the squad's top finisher in last year's race.
Florida enters the women's race as the defending champion while Vanderbilt and Arkansas are both receiving votes in the latest rankings.
Following the SEC Championships, both teams will have a weekend off from competition to prepare for the NCAA South Region Championships in Birmingham, Ala, on Nov. 13.