CULLOWHEE, N.C.- Paced by senior runner Emma Bussard, the UNC Asheville women's cross country squad earned a second place finish, while the Asheville men earned a fourth place finish at the Western Carolina Invitational on Friday evening at the Catamount Athletic Complex.
Florida took the women's two-mile race with 17 points, while the Bulldogs posted a strong second-place total of 59 points, finishing ahead of third-place UNC Charlotte, which was ranked 11th overall in the NCAA Southeast Region preseason poll.
Bussard led Asheville, finishing fifth overall, crossing in 11:38.4 behind the first four Florida runners. Junior Melanie Kulesz ran 11:46.7 for eighth place, and freshman Kelsie Rubino came in right behind her in ninth place in 11:50. After a slight gap back to their fourth and fifth runners, sophomore Scarlett Beamon placed 17th (12:11.1), with Rachel Carson, a junior, finishing 20th (12:18.5).
Tightening the gap between his top-five scoring runners is the goal for Asheville head coach Jesse Norman heading into the rest of the Bulldogs' season.
"Today we had a real good pack, with a 40-second spread," Norman said. "The focus will be getting that pack closer, maybe 30 seconds. It's about closing those gaps."
The men's race also resulted in a Florida victory, with 19 points, with Western Carolina in second with 55 points, UNC Charlotte in third with 96 points, and UNC Asheville rounding out the top four with 110 points.
"This young squad is one of the most competitive that we've brought to this meet," Norman said of his men's team. "We were only 10 points behind Charlotte."
Asheville's top three packed together well with freshman Jeremy Gower finishing 11th overall, clocking 15:54.6 behind teammate Kevin Paradise, a sophomore who placed 12th in 15:55.2. Freshman Andy Thornburg rounded the Bulldogs' top three in 16:01.6, surprising his coach with a gutsy 14th-place result.
"Andy was big for us today," Norman said. "He got out well, ran tough and hung on. I was surprised at how well he finished."
Norman said Thornburg was their fifth runner in a recent time-trial workout, and surprised his team as their third finisher tonight.
After Thornburg, there was nearly a 40-second gap before the next Bulldog crossed the line, which was freshman Skyler Winchester in 29th (16:39.4). Freshman Ryan Catrine finished in 36th-place (16:53.9) to close out the Bulldogs' scoring runners.
The gap back from the top three places to fourth and fifth place is something that Norman plans on focusing on in practice.
"The top three guys were real tight, running hip to hip, then there was a gap back to fourth place, who was alone, and then a big pack which ran together," Norman said. "We've got to close those gaps."
Next for Asheville will be the Big South Preview meet at Rock Hill, S.C. at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15.
Women's team scores:
1. Florida 17
2. UNC Asheville 59
3. Charlotte 72
4. Western Carolina 94
5. Winthrop 113
6. Gardner-Webb 151
7. North Greenville 218
8. Warren Wilson College 232
5. Emma Bussard, JR, 11:38.4
8. Melanie Kulesz, JR, 11:46.7
9. Kelsie Rubino, FR, 11:50.0
17. Scarlett Beamon, FR, 12:11.1
20. Rachel Carson, JR, 12:18.5
26. Adrian Etheridge, SO, 12:31.9
28. Clair Powell, JR, 12:39.8
30. Alyssa Lashway, FR, 12:43.0
39. Lauren Barnes, FR, 13:03.0
44. Jennifer Black, SR, 13:21.3
46. Alyska Kalmeijer, SR, 13:24.6
Men's team scores:
1. Florida 19
2. Western Carolina 55
3. Charlotte 86
4. UNC Asheville 96
5. Winthrop 110
6. North Greenville 179
7. Gardner-Webb 194
8. Warren Wilson College 243
11. Jeremy Gower, FR, 15:54.6
12. Kevin Paradise, SO, 15:55.2
14. Andy Thornburg, FR, 16:01.6
29. Skyler Winchester, FR, 16:39.4
36. Ryan Catrine, FR, 16:53.9
37. Elliot Pahel-Short, SO, 16:55.8
38. David Ryland, FR, 16:59.3
43. Ryan Blackmon, SR, 17:09.2
44. Patrick Osborne, FR, 17:10.2
45. Sebastian Paniagua, JR, 17.11.0
73. Chris Murray, SR, 19:43.0