ELON, N.C. --- The Samford University women's cross country team walked away with the championship trophy Saturday at the Southern Conference Cross Country Championships in Elon, N.C. The men finished tenth place.
"I can't really express what we are feeling right now," Samford head coach Rod Tiffin said. "Our girls didn't have their best race today but I felt like we gave everything we had. To win our first Southern Conference Championship, as well as Samford's first, in one fell swoop is really special. I could not be more proud."
The women were the conference's preseason pick to upset defending champion Chattanooga this year. The Bulldogs scored 74 points Saturday, beating second place Elon by only one point. Appalachian State took third with 83 points while Furman (93) and Davidson (110) rounded out the top five. Chattanooga (134) finished sixth while UNC Greensboro (138), Western Carolina (168), College of Charleston (254), Wofford (289), Georgia Southern (319) and the Citadel (357) rounding out the women's field.
It is always hard to be the favorite," Tiffin said, "especially when it the first win but we really worked hard, did things that had to be done, and came out on top."
Junior Hillary Neal paced the Bulldogs taking fourth place and garnering first team all-conference honors for the second year in a row. She ran the 5,000-meter course in 18:32.22. She led her team last year to a second place finish, and knew that this year she wanted her team to go all the way.
"It's just really exciting," junior Hillary Fountain said. "We didn't really know how we did when we finished and then we got down to the ceremony and they told us we won. It's really exciting to work really hard this year and get it. It's been our goal all year."
The Samford women have come in first in three out of the four meets and have faced a lot of adversity from Mother Nature so far this season. She has literally rained on Samford's parade in three races (Memphis Twilight, Ole Miss Invitational and Southeast Showdown), cancelling one, while Samford also face extreme heat and humidity at the Crimson Classic.
"It's been a crazy sason," Neal said. "It rained every meet it seemed like this year. Even today, it misted a little. It wasn't our best season, and we could've gotten down on ourselves but we persevered today and got it done."
Ina Ables was Samford's other all-conference honoree. The junior finished fifth in her first appearance at the Southern Conference Championships. Ables has been plagued with injuries for the past four years and has finally been healthy enough to run this year. She finished fifth and ran the course in 18:44.39.
"I am beyond excited and overwhelmed with a lot of emotion," Ina Ables said. "I'm proud of our team. I put a lot of hard work into the last four years, fighting injuries, but it all paid off. In all the ups and downs, I couldn't have done it without God and I give him all the glory."
Andrea Seccafien and Jessica Van Ausdall finished 18th and 19th, respectively, while Lauren D'Alessio just made it in the top 30 at 28th place. Cori Christensen (64th), Holly Benson (70th), Jillian Klassen (83rd) and Alli Keithan (86th) rounded out the field for the Samford women.
The Samford men finished 10th in Saturday's competition with 261 points. The Bulldogs were pace by senior Patrick Ollinger who finished 44th place, running the 8,000-meter race in 27:05.40. Scott Cope placed 48th while Blaise Carie and Will Denton finished 52nd and 65th, respectively. Chas Keithan took 68th and Sam Shaughnessy placed 75th while Jay Maservy and Ramsey White rounded out the Samford men at 82nd and 85th, respectively.
Appalachian State defended its title and won the men's race again this year with 44 points. Davidson came in second with 82 points while UNC Greensboro finished right on its heels in third with 83 points. Chattanooga (109) and Elon (134) rounded out the top five on the men's side. Furman (146), Western Carolina (158), College of Charleston (203), the Citadel (218) and Wofford (226) rounded out the rest of the men's field.
The Bulldogs will run in the NCAA South Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in two weeks on Nov. 14.