ROCK HILL, S.C.- The UNC Asheville's womens' cross country team finished fifth, while the men's squad finished 11th at Saturday morning's Winthrop Adidas Invitational.

The Asheville women totaled 180 team points as the third Big South Conference team present. Winner Appalachian State scored 58 points for the team victory, with Liberty finishing with 70 points to lead the conference in second.

"Liberty threw down the gauntlet. They came with it," Bulldog head coach Jesse Norman said of the women's race Big South implications.

Norman said his Bulldogs ran as he expected them to heading into the meet.

Senior Emma Bussard paced the Bulldogs with an 11th-place finish, crossing the line in 18 minutes, 28.87 seconds, fewer than 45 seconds behind unattached USC Upstate runner Jemeli Sang, who won in 17:46.16. Senior Melanie Kulesz kept close to Bussard, running 18:33.90 in 14th place. Kelsie Rubino, a freshman, took 34th place, narrowly missing a finish in the 18's, clocking 19:00.95.

Freshman Scarlett Beamon (56th) and sophomore Adrian Etheridge (77th) rounded out the Bulldogs' top five, running 19:24.61 and 19:49.58, respectively.

Norman said the women's team will look to tighten the spread between his top two runners and the gap back to his third to fifth runners.

The men's 11th-place team finish, sixth among Big South schools, was highlighted by  personal-best times up front and back in the pack.

Sophomore Kevin Paradise led the Bulldogs' 286 team-point tally with a 25th-place finish, covering 8,000 meters faster than ever before with a 25:45.87 result. Freshman Andy Thornburg took 46th, running 26:20.47, and freshmen David Ryland and Ryan Catrine placed just an instant apart, in 79th and 80th, crossing in 27:18:88 and 27:19.98, respectively.

Junior Sebastian Paniagua set a personal-best time with an 87th-place finish in 27:25.12, two minutes faster than he previously had, to complete the Bulldog's top-five scoring pack.

Freshman Jeremy Gower, who led the Bulldogs in their first meet, didn't race, due to illness. Norman sees his placing as the component that would make them a top-five Big South team as they gain experience throughout the year.

"We crashed a little bit in the last half-mile to mile," Norman said. "We'll work on that and improve as we get fit and gain that experience at 8,000 meters."

The Winthrop Farm course will serve as the Big South Championship venue on Saturday, Oct. 27, and today's races served as a chance for teams to preview the championship course. Norman described the men's and women's courses as good championship courses with some rolling hills.

Next for the Bulldog cross country teams will be the UNC Asheville Invitational, on Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. at Swannanoa. 

Story by Tony Casey