Men's Preview by Quenten Lasseter
Women's Preview by Grace McLaughlin
The Lee University Flames will be the team to watch in this region after putting together an outstanding regular season, but underwhelming a bit at their conference meet.
At the Gulf South Conference Championships, the Flames were ready to rewrite history by winning the title for the fifth straight year, but fell short to an up and coming Alabama-Huntsville team.
Back in mid-October at the University of Queens home meet, Lee defeated a strong team in Mount Olive and (at that time) TSR #10 ranked team Queens en route to putting all five scorers in the top 25 to capture the meet win.
This team performance showed their potential and what they were capable of, but they didn’t seem to have their best day in their first postseason race.
Regardless, there are still many positives about this team such as the consistent pack-running of Casey Guthery, Caleb Eagleson, and Moises Ponce. All three men have proven to be consistent top scorers all season long and they are no stranger to the big stage. I wouldn’t worry about too much about their conference performance as the Flames will look to shine brightly once again.
Alabama-Huntsville has been in the back of everyone’s minds all season, but finally came to view at the Gulf South Championships after they took down heavy favorites and four-time defending champions Lee University.
The Chargers were able to put three runners in the top four, including Jay Day winning the meet individually. The rest of Alabama Huntsville’s scorers placed 13th and 14th overall to secure the team title.
What made this win over Lee the most impressive was how the Chargers put all three of their top runners in front of Lee’s top three. This widened the margin of victory for them as they won the meet by 17 points.
If Lee is able to have the type of race they previously had at Queens, they will have no problem fighting off Alabama-Huntsville for the regional title. But if Lee doesn’t seem to catch fire again, this could be an exact repeat of the Gulf South Championships. The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers will be ready to prove to everyone this weekend that their conference victory was no fluke as they look to capture the team title once again over Lee.
Two teams from the Sunshine State conference will look to add their names to the mix this weekend as well. Saint Leo and Embry-Riddle finished 1st and 2nd at their conference meet and have legitimate shots at sneaking inside the top three of the overall standings if things go their way.
Shane Bracken leads this Saint Leo team after taking home the individual title over Mason Jones of Florida Southern and Ryan Szklany of Embry-Riddle. The Lions placed their top five scorers all inside the top 14 at their conference meet and took home the title by 14 points. They will likely need to perform like that this weekend in order to have a chance at pulling off an upset over Lee or Alabama-Huntsville.
Meanwhile, Embry-Riddle will look to solve their problem at the #5 scoring spot. They had four runners inside the top 13, besting Saint Leo at their conference meet, but fell victim to a backend gaffe. Their top four showed off improved pack-running, but that could be due to the smaller size of their conference meet. It'll be interesting to see if they can overcome their backend woes this weekend.
With 2018 South regional champion Christian Noble of Lee redshirting this season, there will be a new individual champion crowned on Saturday. Jay Day of Alabama Huntsville will look to take that spot after his strong winning performance at the GSC championships.
Lee’s Caleb Eagleson is the next top returner from last year’s regional results as he has had a great season helping lead the Flames (along with Will Stone).
Another name to watch for is Saint Leo’s own Shane Bracken. Bracken had a breakout race at the Sunshine State Championships as he won the meet over stout competition.
The door is wide open in the South region for anyone’s taking this year. It will be interesting to see which individuals (and teams) come out on top...
1. Alabama Huntsville
2. Lee University
3. Saint Leo
5. Mississippi College
1. Jay Day (Alabama Huntsville)
2. Caleb Eagleson (Lee)
3. Harold LaCroix (Alabama Huntsville)
4. Will Stone (Lee)
5. Shane Bracken (Saint Leo)
6. Evan Del Rio (Mississippi College)
7. Allan Anderson (Alabama Huntsville)
8. Moises Ponce (Lee)
9. Mason Jones (Florida Southern)
10. Ryan Szklany (Embry-Riddle)
Lee is the overwhelming favorite heading into the South Regional Championships. They are currently TSR #8 and have been on fire since the beginning of the season (they are currently undefeated). They won the UTC Twilight Meet, Trevecca Nazarene DII Showcase, the Royal XC Challenge, and the Gulf South Conference Championships.
The duo of Chloe Flora and Celine Ritter are seemingly impossible to beat right now and that shouldn't change this weekend. Add in Charlee Boxall, and the top three of Lee looks to be one of the best in the country.
Lee is not the only team that has had an impressive season so far. Tampa should easily be 2nd and qualify for Nationals. They were 7th at this meet last year, but a solid recruiting class and consistent improvement should propel them up five spots this year.
Tampa started their season off with a win at the VSU Border Clash, followed by a 2nd place finish at the Mountain Dew Gator Invitational, a 13th place finish at the Capital Cross Challenge, a runner-up result at the USF Invitational, a 3rd place finish at the FSU Invitational, and (most recently) won the Sunshine State Conference Championships.
Gosh, that is a lot of racing.
At their biggest meet of the season, Tampa placed their top three inside the top 55, but had a large drop off at their final two scoring spots. At the Capital Cross Challenge, there were only 20 seconds between their top three runners, but had another 30 seconds to their #4 runner and another 1:07 to the #5 runner. That time spread improved at their conference meet, but it's still an issue that needs to be addressed.
Saint Leo was runner-up at the Sunshine State Conference Championships and I predict them to be 3rd this weekend. Earlier in the season, they won the Florida Tech Invitational, were 10th at the Mountain Dew Gator Invitational, and finished 19th at the Royals XC Challenge. They should easily improve upon their 6th place regional finish from last year.
With that being said, a lot of things need to improve for Saint Leo to have a successful weekend. Without a clear low-stick, they will need to run as a pack (just like they did at their conference meet) if they want a chance at finishing inside the top two. A repeat of the Royals XC meet could spell disaster for them.
Union (Tenn.) was the runner-up in the South region last year which helped them qualify for Nationals (where they placed 34th). I predict them to be 4th on Saturday, putting them in a tough fight for a spot to Nationals.
Union started their season with a 7th place finish at the Rhodes College XC Invite, a runner-up performance at the UAH Chargers XC Open, an 18th place finish at the Royals XC Challenge, and most recently, a 2nd place result at the Gulf South Conference Championships.
Last but not least, I predict Florida Southern to be 5th. During the regular season, they made visits to the Mountain Dew Gator Invitational, Roy Griak Invite, and Royals XC Challenge, finishing no better than 11th (Mountain Dew) and no worse than 15th (Royals). They later went on to earn bronze at the Sunshine State Conference Championships behind Tampa and Saint Leo.
While their regular season performances may not elicit any special attention, the Florida Southern women still ran in some pretty competitive meets and were not far behind Saint Leo at their conference meet. The fact they have been competing against quality competition should leave them with enough experience to outperform other schools this weekend.
Similarly to the team preview, Lee headlines the individual side of things as well. Celine Ritter, Chloe Flora, Charlee Boxall, and Toni Moore are all capable of ending their race inside the top 10 (maybe the top five). Ritter and Flora will, without a doubt, be the top two finishers in this race. In what order? Who knows...
Charlee Boxall of Lee has been closing the gap between herself and that top duo throughout the season and I think she will be 3rd.
Justine Glass of Montevallo was 4th behind Boxall at their conference meet and I think she will have the same finish this weekend.
A Tampa duo consisting of Zoe Jarvis and Aspen Gordon should be in the top six as well. They were respectfully 1st and 2nd at the Sunshine State Conference Championships and have recorded impressive performances throughout the regular season.
Next up is another teammate duo, this time from Alabama- Huntsville. Auburn Cohon and Kaylee Stewart should be in the chase pack. Cohon was 5th and Stewart was 6th at the Gulf South Conference Championships. Sarah Edens, who was 4th at the Sunshine State Conference Championships, should also be in the top 10.
Behind the blazing Flames of Lee University will be an exciting battle for national qualifying spots on both the team and individual sides. The South region is often overlooked when it comes to distance running, but that shouldn't be the case with this regional championship.
1. Lee University
3. Saint Leo
4. Union (Tenn.)
5. Florida Southern
1. Celine Ritter (Lee)
2. Chloe Flora (Lee)
3. Charlee Boxall (Lee)
4. Justine Glass (Montevallo)
5. Zoe Jarvis (Tampa)
6. Aspen Gordon (Tampa)
7. Auburn Cohan (Alabama-Huntsville)
8. Kaylee Stewart (Alabama-Huntsville)
9. Sarah Edens (Embry-Riddle)
10. Toni Moore (Lee)