Lady Cyclones' Carpenter joins Milligan cross-country program

By Wes Holtsclaw

   The Milligan College cross country units received a big boost to their depth Tuesday afternoon.
   After losing a combined one senior last season, the AAC men's and women's cross country champions signed two of the area's top runners in Elizabethton's Jessica Carpenter and Science Hill's Nathan Bowers at the Milligan Student Life Center.
   "Between the men's and women's program, we lose one senior," said Milligan coach Chris Layne. "I think knowing that we've got two top 25 teams coming back and only losing one senior, this is only going to make us better. Both of these folks will have a direct impact on the program."
   "There's no doubt in my mind that both can come in and challenge for a top-three spot in cross country," he said. "Our biggest setback has been depth. Now, with the signing of these folks, it just makes us that much stronger."
   The Lady Cyclone, Carpenter, signs after a solid 2003 season in which she was the first Elizabethton runner to finish in the top 15 at the TSSAA A/AA State Championship with a 12th-place finish holding a 20:04 mark, only a few seconds out of the top seven.
   It was her second year running, having finished 17th in the state meet in 2002. She finished fourth in the Watauga Conference championship meet and holds the school's record with a 19:32 mark in the three mile run.
   Carpenter, who was also named to Brian Buckner's Top 21 Team (consisting of the top 21 cross country athletes in ETenn and SWVa), is excited about joining the defending AAC Championship Women's team.
   "It's a good opportunity for me," Carpenter said. "I didn't think I'd get the chance to really. I've only been running for two years."
   "(Running at Elizabethton High) was really cool," she said. "We only had a couple of girls run, but it was a really good experience and I really liked it."
   Carpenter became the first Lady Cyclone cross country runner to sign a collegiate scholarship.
   "It's a big step for our program to have somebody sign," said Elizabethton coach Jim Presnell. "We've never had a female cross-country runner sign. We have some younger kids, so hopefully I can talk a few more into it."
   "I'm real happy for her, that she gets a chance to do this," he said. "It's been a dream of hers and they've got a good one in there, I think she'll be all right."
   Carpenter plans on majoring in physical therapy at Milligan.
   "I've always heard what a good school it is and I plan on majoring in physical therapy," she said. "I talked to some people who have went here and they said it was an awesome school."
   Her parents, Joe and Tammy Carpenter, are happy to keep her close to home and are excited about the next step in her student-athlete path.
   "We're really proud of Jessica and what she's done and accomplished," said her father. "We'd like to give thanks to Coach Presnell and Coach Layne. It seems like (Coach Layne) is a real good guy and he's going to bring the best out of her. We're very glad she picked Milligan."
   The defending two-time men's AAC champion really got a steal in Science Hill's Nathan Bowers.
   Bowers, who is often considered the top male distance runner in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, led both areas in 5k with a time of 16:09.
   He missed the AAA state meet due to a stress fracture, but took a big victory by winning the individual title at the Trailblazer Invitational.
   "I'm real excited," Bowers said. "It's close to home and coming here with Coach Layne to meet the players, it seemed like I really fit in well. I really like the campus and you can't beat the education anywhere around here."
   Bowers finished on the All-Conference team and placed in the Top 20 during every race in 2003. He also had the fourth fastest three mile run with a time of 16:11.
   "I just want to contribute to this team as much as possible," said the runner of Milligan. "We've got some goals for the next couple of years."
   The son of Tim and Cheryl Bowers was also named to Brian Buckner's Top 21 Team.
   "We're really excited to follow him," said Nathan's father, Tim. "He really started running cross-country his junior year, so we get to keep following his development and see how he does in college."
   "He's worked really hard. In the process, he's become a student-athlete, which is the most important thing," he said. "He can get a good education from a good institution."