ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The UNC Asheville men's and women's cross country teams gun for Big South Conference championships this Saturday morning at Winthrop. The women's 5K race starts at 10:30 a.m., while the men's 8K begins at 11:30 a.m.
Both teams look to improve on last year's results as the men came in eighth place, while the women finished in ninth.
On the women's side, the Bulldogs could be in the mix for their first championship since 1999. Head Coach Jesse Norman knows a lot of things will have to come together but he's confident of Asheville making a good showing on Saturday.
"Liberty is the favorite. They have a very good team," explained Norman. "We could finish anywhere from first to sixth. It's a very balanced league this year and it just depends on who has a good race.
"We need everyone to bring their "A" game on Saturday," added Norman. "If everyone can step up and run well then we have a chance to finish pretty high. We'll just see what happens."
Senior Emma Bussard has brought her "A" game to each meet this season. She has been the Bulldogs top runner in each of Asheville's four meets and finished an impressive 21st at the NCAA Pre-Meet two weeks ago in Louisville. Bussard ran 21:52 and improved her lifetime best by more than 90 seconds two weeks ago.
"Emma's had a great year and is running with a great deal of confidence," commented Norman. "I know she'll be ready to run tomorrow."
Junior Melanie Kulesz has been Asheville's number two runner this year. She red-shirted last year but earned All-Conference honors in 2009 and 2010 by finishing in the top 10. Kulesz has a shot to make it three All-Conference finishes on Saturday.
On the men's side, the Bulldogs are shooting for a more modest finish.
"We're going to look to come in anywhere from fourth to sixth place," stated Norman. "Our team is very young but has shown some real potential this year and for the future. We're going to bring five freshmen and two sophomores to the meet as they'll get some great experience."
Asheville has had three different runners lead the Bulldog pack this year. Norman likes what he's seen out of his young team.
"We're showing some good balance throughout our team," explained Norman. "I think we'll make some noise tomorrow but the future is really bright for our club."
Sophomore Kevin Paradise has been Asheville's top runner in two races this year, including winning the UNC Asheville Invitational. Freshman Skyler Winchester was the Bulldogs top runner at the Pre-National meet as he posted a time of 26:11.