Milligan enjoying great success in cross country

By Michelle Pope
STAR STAFF
mpope@starhq.com

   After a successful end to its regular season, the Milligan cross country team exhibited continued excellent performance. Both men's and women's teams captured AAC titles, the first for the women's team, and the second in a row for the men's team since the program was established in 1999.
   As if the outstanding season end weren't enough for the Buffaloes to secure boasting rights, both teams also laid claim on first place Region 12 titles in Louisville, Ky. last Saturday, sending them racing to the national competition for the first time as a team on Nov. 22 in Louisville.
   The teams seemed determined to end the regular season successfully at the Southeast Classic hosted by Berry College in Georgia. The women's team finished fourth out of 23 schools, and the men finished fifth. The Buffaloes competed against nationally ranked teams such as Berry College, Malone College, and Cumberland College, three of the top sixteen teams in the nation.
   For the men, Sean Bowman and Chris Wright came in seventh and eighth, both setting personal best and season records with 25:24 and 25:26. Along with Bowman and Wright, senior Shane Oakleaf, Trevor Donovan, Ted Dubois and Jair Collie also clocked four more of the top eight season records for the 8K at Berry.
   The girls were no different. Polished freshman Marta Zimon placed third with 18:24. Megan Lease and Lauren Gross set personal and season 5K records at the Southeast Classic, and Amber Peace and Rachel Carriger brought in two more season records. Four of the top six season 5K times were set at Berry College.
   The runners this year have been very consistent, a trait that they will hopefully carry into the national tournament.
   "After the conference region this past weekend, we did see a very similar order to where we were in the mid-season and last season," said Chris Layne, head coach of both teams. "Now that they've earned that first trip to nationals as a team, the main goal is to be sure that they don't take a break."
   Unlike most sports, which require players to put their noses to the grindstone before such a renowned competition, the cross country team will prepare a little bit differently.
   "We've got to make sure they're prepared to go to nationals," Layne said. "This week, basically, their volume will be cut by twenty percent, and next week it will be cut by another twenty percent. We'll cut out their morning run. Coaches call (it) '(giving) them their legs back.'"
   In the past, the tapering-off period began before the regional championship.
   "That's where we really felt like they needed to be really cautious and ready to run," Layne said. "This year, having stronger squads on both sides, we didn't back down for regional. So really, now, the hard work is over and we will begin to taper down going into nationals."
   With a deep men's team, the Buffs have four 1st Team All-Region 12 and All-Conference runners in Bowman, Wright, Oakleaf, and Donovan. Dubois and Collie make up the team's other two conference runners, and the two, with Josh Ferry, make up the 2nd All-Region team.
   On the women's team, Zimon, Lease, and Gross made All-Conference and 1st Team All-Region, with Peace named to the 2nd Team All-Region.
   Layne hopes to be able to recruit a more solid women's team for next season. "(Our depth) is what's been our weak point all season, and that's something that we really won't be able to address until after the season and until we really start recruiting, and recruiting is going well."
   The coach is pleased with both teams' performances this season. Both the men's and women's teams have snatched a first place finish three times, first at the Land of the Sky Invitational in September, and then at the AAC Championship and the Region 12 Championship.
   "I think with both sides doing so well this season, we've really opened up. The exposure we've gotten has really put us on the map, so to speak," said Coach Layne. "I really feel like recruiting is going well enough to know that next year, we're going to have those holes filled."
   Layne says the outlook for next season is bright. "We're definitely shooting for the top ten teams in nationals."