Cross-country team looks ahead to postseason regional

Junior runner Skip Martin leads a pride of Lions in the UAH-Earl Jacoby Memorial Invitational Sept. 12. The Lions hope to succeed in regionals Nov. 7.

The UNA cross-country teams finished their regular season events and will prepare for regional competitions in Tampa, Florida, Nov. 7.

The Lions — whose women and men finished fifth and sixth, respectively, at the Gulf South Conference championships — are training for the NCAA Division II South Regional.

UNA hopes to place well enough at the meet to move to the national event.

“We have the regional coming up, and we’re still working hard,” said head coach Scott Trimble. “The top three teams move on to the national championships. We’ve never taken a team there in the history of the program, so that’s something we’re working toward.”

This season, UNA’s men and women competed in four invitationals across Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, starting with the Sewanee Invitational in Sewanee, Tennessee, Sept. 5.

Both the men and the women, led by junior Adam Benefield and sophomore Laura Bennett, finished third at Sewanee.

The next race fared even better for the Lions. The women placed four runners in the top 10, taking first place at the UAH Earl Jacoby Invitational Sept. 12.

“The best race, by far, for the women this year was at UAH when they won the whole thing,” Trimble said. “The ladies have put the work in all year, and it shows when they’re able to run well and win.”

The men finished second at the UAH-hosted event, placing three runners in the top 10.

The next two races for the cross-country team were the Rhodes Invitational in Memphis and the Watson Ford Invitational in Clinton, Mississippi.

UNA’s men and women each finished eighth in Memphis, but turned it around in Clinton. The men finished second among non-Division I schools while the women finished fifth.

“Our best race for the guys was down at (the Watson Ford Invitational) when they finished second,” Trimble said. “They finished second a couple of times. Even though the men never won a race, they’ve really been more consistent over the year than the women have.”

The four regular season competitions led up to the GSC Championships held in Danville.

UNA’s women finished fifth with a total team time of 1:39:48.89. The top five finishers for the women were Olivia Brady, Walker Mattox, Laura Bennett, Alexandra Pidcock and Stephanie Simpson.

“I think conference went pretty well,” Simpson said. “We were content with fifth, but there’s always room for improvement. We’re really looking forward to getting better next year.”

The men finished sixth in the GSC with a total time of 2:16:08.21. Benefield, who finished 14th individually, earned second team All-GSC honors with his 14th place performance.

“Last year at conference I finished in 27th place,” Benefield said. “After that, I set my goal for all-conference, whether it be first team or second team. It was a huge personal accomplishment for me.”

Tate Carden, Dylan Martin, Jared Melton and Braxton Linder were the other top five finishers for the Lions.

The South Regional includes teams from the GSC, the Sunshine State Conference and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The men’s race will be a 10k and the women’s race will be an 8k, which is different from the 8k and 5k events UNA’s men and women ran this season.

“We’ve upped our mileage in training preparing for the regional,” Trimble said. “I feel like we could’ve done better in conference, but we have a chance to get that taste out of our mouth at the regional. Hopefully we can do well down there and move on to nationals.”