By Tony Casey
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The Pre-National Meet at the University of Louisville concluded with strong team races, but even stronger individual races from the UNC Asheville Bulldogs against top-notch national competition, with the men finishing 22nd, and the women taking 18th. Both Bulldog teams competed in the black races at Tom Sawyer State Park this morning.
Finishing in 18th place, the UNC Asheville women's squad had a huge race from senior Emma Bussard, who rocketed to a 21st-place finish, clocking 21 minutes, 52.8 seconds, to log a nearly 90-second personal best time over a 6,000-meter course.
Bussard's time lands her third all-time in the Bulldog history books over the distance. Her time surprised head coach Jesse Norman, who expected a big race from Bussard, but didn't see his top runner cracking the 22-minute barrier just yet.
"That big of a PR is a shocker," Norman said. "I knew she'd PR, maybe run in the mid 22's, but that was very impressive for her to be under 22 minutes. I think she has an outside shot at a top-25 finish at regionals."
The personal bests didn't stop there, with junior Melanie Kulesz taking the sixth-place all-time Bulldog spot with her 60th-place finish, in 22:25.7. Freshman Kelsie Rubino was next for the Bulldogs in 151st place (23:27.6), with fellow freshmen Scarlett Beamon finishing 163rd(23:37.0), Erin Dalton 180th (23:54.1), sophomore Adrian Etheridge 188th(24:03.4), and senior Clair Powell 202nd (24:21.1), for their top-seven squad. South Carolina's freshman Kayla Lampe was victorious in the race in 21:03.5.
"This is where I thought our girls would finish, with our three to seven girls all finishing pretty closely to each other," Norman said.
On the men's side, UNC Asheville had its third lead runner of the season lead the team with freshman Skyler Winchester finishing 146th in 26:11.6. With this result, the Bulldogs have a top-five squad that all finished under 27 minutes, and are all underclassmen.
Behind Winchester and Paradise were four freshmen in a row for UNC Asheville, with Jeremy Gower in 26:17.8 (155th), Andy Thornburg in 26:23.8 (167th), David Ryland in 26:46.7 (205th), and Ryan Catrine in 27:34.8 (243th). Senior Ryan Blackmon finished in 28:00.8 (254th), respectively, for the top-seven Bulldogs, six of which are underclassmen.
"Kudos to our top five for keeping that pack together," Norman said of his men's squad. "We don't have a set front runner, and we do our best when we pack it in like this, and run together."
This Bulldog performance was the quickest top-five average time yet this season, which is good forecasting, heading toward conference championships.
Joseph Chebet, a senior from Western Kentucky, took the black race victory, in a 23:56.7.
After two weeks off, the Bulldogs will be back in action at the Big South Championships on Oct. 27 at Winthrop University.