ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The UNC Asheville men's and women's cross country teams begin training for the 2012 season this morning with time trials. Below is a preview of the upcoming season for both squads.  


The UNC Asheville men's and women's cross country teams look for improvement in 2012, and both have the potential to be much better this season.


On the women's side, the Bulldog harriers could be ready to make a run at a Big South Conference championship. Asheville red-shirted All-Conference performers Emma Bussard and Melanie Kulesz last season and both should be in prime shape to have big seasons.


The Bulldogs have a lot more depth this year with some talented returnees and newcomers on the roster.


"We're really excited about the upcoming season," stated Asheville coach Jesse Norman. "We have a chance to have a great year in 2012. Our depth is the best we've ever had and a lot of that depth is up front."


Kulesz should be one of the top runners in the Big South this year. She earned All-Conference honors in 2009 and 2010 before sitting out last season in just cross country. Kulesz, who will be a junior this season, enjoyed an excellent indoor and outdoor season last year.


"Melanie has always been an All-Conference performer for us, and I'm pretty confident that will continue this year," explained Norman. "We're glad to have her back this year, and she'll be a leader, as well."


Bussard is one of four seniors on this year's team. She is one of the top steeplechase runners in the Big South and has narrowly missed going to the NCAA regional over the past two years. Two years ago, Bussard just missed earning All-Conference honors at the Big South Championship.


"Emma has really blossomed in track, and we fully expect that to carry over to cross country this year," admitted Norman. "She and Melanie will lead our team this season and should be among the top runners in the Big South."


Senior Clair Powell brings experience and depth to the 2012 squad.


"We just need Clair to stay healthy," explained Norman. "We really need her leadership this season. She's a hard worker who gives us some experienced depth."


Two other seniors will be counted on in 2012. They are Jennifer Black and Alyska Kalmeijer.


"Jennifer is a good worker who has improved with each season," stated Norman. "Alyska had a solid year for us last season, and we look for her to be even better this year."


Junior Rachel Carson has a chance to be in Asheville's top five.


"Rachel really came on at the end of last season," declared Norman. "If we can keep her away from injuries, she could be in our top five."


Sophomore Adrian Etheridge was Asheville's top runner as a freshman in 2011. She ran a personal best in the Big South Conference championship meet where she narrowly missed earning a spot on the All-Conference team.


"I think Adrian is good enough to be running with Emma and Melanie," commented Norman. "She learned a lot last year as a freshman that will only make her better this season."


The Bulldog coaching staff has brought in five freshmen to the team in 2012. All should contribute to the Asheville effort this season. The five are Lauren Barnes, Scarlett Beamon, Erin Dalton, Alyssa Lashway and Kelsie Rubino.


"We're excited about our freshmen coming into our program," stated Norman. "All of them have a chance to help us this year."


Barnes comes to Asheville from Wallard, Tenn., as she prepped at Heritage HS.


"Lauren adds depth to our team," said Norman. "She's a hard worker who we're anxious to get on our training system."


Beamon enjoyed a great prep career at West Johnson HS in Benson, N.C.


"Scarlett has the potential to be in our top five this year," explained Norman. "She's posted some good times in high school."


Dalton is from Henrico, Va., and ran at Mills Godwin HS.


"We really like Erin's work ethic and what she brings to our program," added Norman. "We're glad to have her as a part of our team this year."


Lashway ran at J.M. Robinson HS in Concord, N.C.


"Alysha will be a real asset to both our cross country and track programs," said Norman. "She has a great drive to improve."


Rubino comes to Asheville from Mooresville, N.C., and Lake Norman HS.


"Kelsie is a talented freshman who we're anxious to begin work with," commented Norman. "She has a great deal of potential."


The Bulldog men's cross country team looks for major improvement in 2012. Norman has a young team. Ten of Asheville's runners this year are either freshmen or sophomores. The Bulldogs have 13 runners on their roster.


"I think we have a good chance to be better this year because we have a lot of true distance runners this season," explained Norman. "We're really young but I think we can make a run at being in the top half of the conference this season.


"It's going to take some time to develop some of our runners but when we do, we'll have a pretty good team," added Norman.


Asheville has two seniors on this year's club. Chris Murray leads the Bulldogs and is the most experienced runner back. Transfer Ryan Blackmon will be running cross country for the first time this year.


"Chris is one of our hardest workers," stated Norman. "He'll bring some real leadership to this year's team.


"We're glad to Ryan with us this season," commented Norman. "We need to keep him healthy and if we can do that he'll add some real depth to this year's club."


The lone junior on the club is Sebastian Paniagua.


"Sebastian is a good, hard worker who will make a contribution," said Norman. "However, his biggest contributions will come in track season so we're going to use him in cross country to help him get ready for track."


The Bulldogs' top runner from last year was sophomore Kevin Paradise. He enjoyed a solid freshman campaign in cross country and track and field.


"On paper, Kevin is our top runner this year," declared Norman. "He's a true cross country guy who is only going to get better after a year of experience. Kevin will have some competition for the top spot from some of our freshmen."


Sophomore Elliot Pahel-Short was Asheville's most improved runner in 2011.


"We were really pleased with Elliot as a freshman and expect big things from him this season," admitted Norman. "He dropped his 5K time by 45 seconds and that shows you what a hard worker he is."


Sophomore Ben Lockhart red-shirted in 2011, and Norman has high hopes for the Chapel Hill native.


"We're glad to have Ben back this year," said Norman. "Ben needs to stay healthy and if he can do that, he'll contribute this season."


Seven freshmen dot the Asheville roster this year. It's the most that Norman has ever had on his squad. Heading the list of newcomers is Jeremy Gower from West Johnston HS in Benson, N.C.


"Jeremy is going to push Kevin Paradise, and that's going to help both of them be better," commented Norman. "He's one of the fastest guys we've signed since I've been here. We're looking for big things from Jeremy."


Another freshman expected to challenge for the top spot with the Bulldogs this year is Knoxville native Skyler Winchester.


"Skyler's times in high school are as good as Jeremy Gower's," stated Norman. "He's a tough competitor who is going to be heard from this season."


Norman also expects Ryan Catrine from Fuquay-Varina to have a potential impact on the Bulldog program in the future.


"We believe we have a diamond-in-the-rough in Ryan," said Norman. "He's going to surprise some people in his career. I think he might be a year away from making a real impact but we're glad to have him."


Jesse Dellea comes to Asheville from Carrboro HS in Carrboro, N.C.


"Jesse will add depth to our roster," explained Norman. "He has potential to be a solid contributor for our program."


Patrick Osborne is one of four Bulldog runners from the state of Ohio. Osborne hails from Macedonia and prepped at Nordonia HS.


"We're excited about Patrick. He had a huge breakthrough in the mile last year in track and ran 4:20," stated Norman. "We just need to get him a little stronger."


Another Ohio product - David Ryland - could make some noise on the trails in 2012. He's from Broadview Heights and went to Brecksville-Broadview Heights HS.


"David should be able to help us this season," declared Norman. "He posted some good times in high school."


One more Ohio product, Andy Thornburg, rounds out the Bulldog roster. Thornburg is from St. Clairsville HS in St. Clairsville.


"Andy had some really solid times in high school," commented Norman. "He's a runner who just needs to develop."