By Tony Casey 

ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The Western Carolina Invitational will be the season opener for the UNC Asheville's cross country teams on Friday, August 31.


The Bulldogs will toe the line against a stiff field of competition, including teams from Gardner-Webb, North Greenville, Warren Wilson, Western Carolina, Winthrop, Florida, and Charlotte. The women's race will take place over the two-mile course at 6 p.m., and the men's 5,000-meter race will kick off shortly after, at 6:25 p.m.


After the recent news of UNC Asheville's preseason Big South Conference ranking of seventh on the women's side, head coach Jesse Norman doesn't shy away from putting a lofty goal in front of his runners, citing a new race philosophy and team work in recent practices.


"We're looking to win the meet. We have been having some good pack running in practice and I'm looking for that to continue at Western Carolina," said Norman. "We are changing our race philosophy a little this year, so we will also be looking at having everyone execute the plan."


Last year's Western Carolina Invitational was won by the University of Florida, scoring a perfect score of 15. The Bulldogs came in third place, scoring 71 points, while being led by freshman Adrian Etheridge in 12th place overall, crossing in 11:52.99 seconds. Last year's redshirted Emma Bussard, now a senior, and junior Melanie Kulesz, who also redshirted, should be an integral part of Asheville's front pack.


In the men's race, the Bulldogs' young squad of talented harriers, who recently garnered an eighth-place ranking in Big South preseason rankings, will be looking to gain experience, with a handful of the team seeing collegiate competition for the first time.


"The first couple of races will be our time to learn that everyone at the NCAA level is as good as or better than they are," Norman said. "Once that lesson gets learned in the first couple of meets, we will then be able to start focusing on placing high in meets and what that takes to move the team higher up within the conference."


The Bulldogs also opened up at the Western Carolina meet last year, and walked away in third place, with 80 points, behind Western Carolina's 45 in second, and the University of Florida took the victory with 15 points, putting runners in the top five spots. Sophomores Kevin Paradise and Aaron Martin placed ninth in 15:57.07, and 17th overall (16:47.71), respectively, to lead the Bulldogs.


Heading into this season opener, Norman shares his eagerness to get the season underway at Western Carolina as means to put a result, and build upon it.


"I'm just excited to finally get the season underway. The team is training hard right now, like every other team in the NCAA," Norman said. "The first race will be our first test of the season against a really good field, and it will only build in competitiveness as the season goes along."


Results can be found at after the completion of the meet, along with all other race information.