The Francis Marion University men's and women's cross country teams will open their 2019 seasons on Saturday (Sept. 7) when the Patriots participate in the UNC Pembroke Braves Twilight Meet. The event was originally slate for Sept. 6, but was pushed back a day to allow for bad weather from Hurricane Dorian to leave the area.
The meet will begin at 9 a.m. with the women's 5,000-meter race, followed by the men's 8,000-meter race at 10:15 a.m. Both will be held at Luther Britt Park in Lumberton, N.C.
The FMU men's squad includes two seniors (Robert Hahn and Ivan Henderson); four sophomores (Parker Calvert, Christian England, Anthony Melo, and Wyatt Witman); and two freshmen: Thomas Allen (Latta, SC) and Matt Howle (Rock Hill, SC). A product of South Florence High School, Melo is in his first year running for the Patriots, although he attended classes last year.
Calvert was the squad's most valuable runner as a freshman. He was the team's top finisher in four of seven meets, including a pair of Top-20 showings. His best 8K time was 28:34 at the Queen City Invitational. Henderson, a three-year letterman, bested Calvert in the other three races and was the squad's top finisher.
Whitman was named to the 2018 Peach Belt Conference's All-Sportsmanship Team and was the squad's second finisher in two meets and third finisher in four events.
Long-time FMU head coach Mark Bluman praised his veteran returnees. "The all came back pretty solid after getting all their work in this summer. They are ready to roll after three weeks of preseason drills."
The Patriot women return four senior runners – Alexis Byers, Emma Driggers, Alison Filer, and Andrea Liddell – while adding four newcomers: sophomore Taylor Boggs (Darlington, SC) and freshmen Artiana Andrews (Lancaster, SC), Sarah Driggers (Mauldin, SC), and Angela Kasitz (Boyertown, PA). Emma and Sarah are sisters, while Taylor is the younger sister of former FMU men's runner Brandon Boggs.
"Having a pair of sisters on the squad and the sister of a former runner speaks extremely well of the university and the experience these student-athletes are receiving at FMU; to the point that additional family members want to share in that experience."
Liddell earned team MVP accolades last fall after being FMU's top finisher in all seven races, including three Top-20 showings. Her top 5,000-meter time was 20:19 at the Sand Shark Invitational. She earned PBC Runner of the Week honors once and was selected to the PBC All-Sportsmanship squad. "Andrea also did her work over the summer and is ready for 2019. She wants to leave a legacy at FMU and is well on her way to accomplishing that."
Filer was the team MVP in 2017 and was the team's second finisher behind Liddell in all seven 2018 races. Driggers was the squad's MVP in 2016 as a freshman and last year earned prestigious Google Cloud Academic All-America honors for Division II. "Without a doubt, Emma is a role model for everyone. Accomplishing these feats as a double-major (History and French), it trickles down to where the other student-athletes see what can be done both on and off the field of play.
"We had an extra week of preseason preparation this year, and during that time we have tried to get the new male runners up to speed with the collegiate distance. We do this gradually and cautiously by increasing their distance and volume in practice.
"Having the experience we do this year is good because the veterans set the tone. I asked them to reach out to others throughout the summer, so all new runners kept in touch and were held accountable.
"One key to success in 2019 is to stay healthy. We have a few more numbers than 2018, but we need to nip the little things in the bud and make sure we avoid the late fall flu and colds. As long as we stay healthy and keep them rolling, I am expecting big things this year."
Following the UNCP meet, the Patriots will run in the Wingate University Bulldog Stampede on Sept. 21 in Wingate, N.C., the Charleston Classic on Oct. 5 on James Island, S.C.; and the Sand Shark XC Invite on Oct. 19 in Hardeeville, S.C. The 2019 Peach Belt Conference Championship Meet will be held Oct. 26 at Luther Britt Park in Lumberton.