GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's and women's cross country teams will compete in the South Atlantic Conference Championships Saturday morning.
The meet will take place at the Milliken Research Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with the men's race starting at 9 a.m. followed by the women's event at 10:15 a.m.
Last year, the Pioneer men finished ninth and the women seventh at the SAC Championship meet in Newton, North Carolina. The Pioneers' best men's SAC finish was fifth in 2008, while the women finished as high as third from 2001 through 2003.
The Tusculum men have enjoyed a strong fall season, with a win, two second-place finishes and a fourth-place result among their five competitions. The Pioneers were ranked in the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Southeast Region poll for the first time in program history, reaching as high as fifth in the three weeks they were included in the rankings.
Sophomore Will Cronin is entered in Saturday's championship for the Pioneers. Cronin had a pair of top-10 finishes to start the season, including the victory in the 5K in the Zaxby's Open on Sept. 7. Cronin added a ninth-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Invitational on Sept. 14 with a time of 25:58.8. Last year, Cronin was the Pioneers' top finisher as he crossed the line 29th.
Sophomore Jackson Beason earned his first career win at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic on Oct. 19, running 25:22.3. One week earlier, Beason ran 25:04.0 at the Royals Cross Country Challenge with a time that was less than a second shy of the program record set by All-Region runner Simon Holzapfel in the 2010 SAC Championship. Beason placed 33rd overall in last year's SAC Championship.
Freshman Kyler Hodges turned in his best showing of the season at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic, taking ninth place with a time of 26:36.8. Hodges also had a second-place finish behind Cronin in the Zaxby's Open, and was 12th overall at the Lenoir-Rhyne Invitational. Hodges' best time of the year came at Queens with a mark of 25:18.0.
Junior T.J. Tupps has four finishes of 16th or better in his five races this season, including a second-place showing at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic and a sixth-place finish at the Zaxby's Open. Tupps shaved a minute off his runs at the Lenoir-Rhyne Invitational and the North Georgia Invitational that saw him finish 11th and 16th, respectively.
Johnson ran in all five meets this fall for the Pioneers, with a best finish of 17th at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic and a top time of 26:23.0 at the Royals Challenge. Johnson was the Pioneer's fifth runner at last year's SAC Championships, with a career-best finish of 47th in the 2016 championship meet.
Perez turned in his best finish of the year at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic as he crossed the line in 20th place, coming off a Royals Challenge in which he set his fastest 8K mark of the season at 27:12.0. Rotich finished 15th at the Zaxby's Open and 15th at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic, in which he had a season-best time of 26:55.2. Rotich has run three 8K races this season and had a spread of seven seconds among the three times he posted.
Also entered for the Pioneers are junior Kyle Stanley, sophomore Isaac Hybarger and freshman Carson Walls. Stanley ran in four meets for the Pioneers this season, with a best time and finish of 26th in 27:53.3 at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic. Hybarger ran a career-best 30:24.0 at the Royals Challenge and had a 37th-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic, and Walls turned in a 21st-place finish at the Zaxby's Open and ran a best time of 27:44 at the Royals Challenge.
The Pioneers are coming off a season-best second-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic on Oct. 19, and will send seven runners out to cover the 6K course in the SAC Championship.
Junior Alissa Furches has been the Pioneers' top runner this season, finishing sixth in the Zaxby's Open on Sept. 7, 15th at the North Georgia Invitational on Sept. 29 and fifth at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic. Furches had a career-best 5K time of 19:25 at the Royals Challenge on Oct. 12, and will look to surpass her 20th-place finish in last year's SAC Championship that earned her honorable mention All-Conference honors.
Three other Pioneers ran in last year's SAC Championship meet, including junior Brooklyn Smith who had a career-best 58th-place finish. Smith ran 12th at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic and had a season-best 5K time of 21:54.0 at the Royals Challenge.
Senior Makenzi Alley will be running in her third SAC Championship, looking to surpass her 54th-place run from two years ago. Alley ran in three meets this fall, placing 14th overall at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic.
Sophomore Angel Quay placed 86th at last year's SAC Championship meet, and has posted a career-best time in the 5K of 22:43.0 at the Royals Challenge. Quay was also a 21st-place finisher at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic and ran a career-best 28:20.2 in that 6K race.
Sophomore Yoland Boyce has been the Pioneers' second finisher during the season, placing 10th overall at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic with a season-best time in the 6K of 25:15.0. Boyce also ran 20:33 at the Royals Challenge to finish behind Furches in the Tusculum lineup.
Freshman Judith Chepkirui is also coming off a season-best time of 29:35.1 at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic, and has cut more than a minute off her 5K time in each of her three races this season.
Senior Nicole McMillen is also entered in the meet after competing for the Pioneer women's soccer team during the fall. McMillen proved to be a strong distance runner for Tusculum in track & field last season, taking fourth in the 5K at the indoor championship with a time of 18:20.47 and eighth in the 1500 meters at the outdoor championship.