ROCK HILL, S.C. - The UNC Asheville men's and women's cross country teams both finished in fifth place at the Big South Conference championships Saturday morning at Winthrop.


Senior Emma Bussard earned all-conference honors for the Bulldogs on the women's side with a strong third-place finish. She completed the 5K course with a time of 17:47. Her time tied a school record and was a personal best. Bussard was also named to the Big South All-Academic team.


Liberty won the women's race with 40 points, followed by Coastal Carolina (72), High Point (73) and Winthrop (136). The Bulldogs finished right behind Winthrop with 140 points. Asheville improved by four places from last year's ninth-place finish.


"We ran an average race," commented Bulldog coach Jesse Norman. "I'm pleased that we improved a great deal from last season, but I thought we could have finished higher if we had raced a little better on the day.


"I'm really happy for Emma. She's been running very well for us the whole year and was sensational today," added Norman.


Junior Melanie Kulesz finished 21st with a time of 18:49. Erin Dalton was 34th at 19:20, followed by Kelsie Rubuino in 39th at 19:34. Adrian Etheridge came in 43th with a time of 19:43.30 Right behind her was Scarlett Beamon at 19:43.70. Clair Powell posted a time of 19:50, while Rachel Carson had a time of 19:56.


On the men's side, the Bulldogs posted their highest finish in close to 10 years with their fifth-place finish. Liberty also won the men's championship with 28 points. High Point came in second with 49, followed by Campbell (92) and VMI (100). Asheville had 158 points. The Bulldogs top finisher was sophomore Kevin Paradise who posted a time of 25:39.05 and came in 15th place. Paradise led the first part of the race before setting for a 15th spot.


"I'm really proud of Kevin as he ran a good race," said Norman. "He fought hard the entire way and improved his time by 10 seconds from last year.


"We ran OK on the men's side but not as good as we could have," added Norman. "However, with both teams we showed tremendous improvement from last year and the future is bright for both programs."


The Bulldogs had Skyler Winchester finish in 32nd (26:32), followed by Jeremy Gower in 34th (26:39), Andy Thornburg in 37th (26:39), David Ryland in 40th (26:52), Elliot Pahel-Short in 40th (26:52) and Ryan Catrine (28:10).


Elliot Pahel-Short earned a spot on the Big South All-Academic team.