Sam Chandler, Managing Editor
Call it perfect execution.
At the Southern Conference Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Oct. 29, Samford junior Karisa Nelson tucked herself behind the race leader, drafted off her pace and then made a decisive move down the homestretch.
The energy Nelson saved through the first 3 miles proved the difference in the final 160 meters.
Nelson crossed the 5K finish line at Camp Jordan Park in Chattanooga, Tenn., in a 16-second personal-best 16 minutes, 22.62 seconds. She narrowly bested Furman University’s Savannah Carnahan, who placed second in 16:24.72.
“She ran smart. She just stayed behind the Furman girl and outkicked her,” Samford cross-country coach Pat McGregor said. “It was that simple.”
Nelson’s victory clinched Samford’s first women’s individual SoCon cross-country title since 2012, and it headlined what turned into a watershed day for the Bulldog cross-country teams.
Thanks to a host of clutch performances, the Samford men and women each claimed runner-up team finishes—the best collective showing in program history.
The Bulldog men had previously never finished higher than fourth at the conference meet, while the women had not placed higher than third since winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010.
“Any time you can go out to a championship and get a trophy it’s a good day,” McGregor said. “I’m pleased.”
The pair of runner-up finishes marked a significant improvement from last year’s conference results. In 2015, the men placed fourth and the women tied for fifth.
The strong outings also bucked pre-meet predictions. In August’s SoCon Preseason Coaches’ Poll, league coaches forecasted that both Bulldog squads would finish third at conference.
But McGregor’s teams refused to let expectations define them.
For the women, Nelson triggered a burst of momentum that snowballed to the rest of her team.
Junior Emma Garner joined Nelson toward the front of the pack, placing fourth in 16:55.42. The duo earned All-SoCon First Team recognition, and Nelson was named Runner of the Year.
Junior Anna Long and freshman Mary Grace Strozier provided crucial reinforcement in the team’s all-important third and fourth scoring positions. Long (12th, 17:43.67) and Strozier (14th, 17:49.11) posted sub-18-minute 5K times for the first time in their respective careers, earning spots on the All-SoCon Second Team.
Freshman Shian Mallory rounded out the team’s scoring five with an 18th-place finish in a personal-best 18:01.25. Fellow freshman Presley Weems also posted a notable performance, as she placed 25th in a personal-best 18:24.11.
“It was a great effort by all six girls,” McGregor said. “That was great.”
Collectively, the Bulldog women tallied 47 points and accumulated a 17:22.42 team 5K average. Furman totaled 24 points to capture its fourth-straight SoCon title.
The Bulldog men, meanwhile, placed three runners in the top eight and five in the top 20.
Junior Arsène Guillorel, redshirt senior Brandon Hazouri and sophomore Ben Bryant notched third-, fifth- and eighth-place performances with a trio of personal-best 8K times.
Guillorel dipped under the elite 24-minute barrier for the first time of his career, clocking in at 23:36.69. Hazouri followed in a 41-second personal-best 24:12.72, and Bryant crossed in a 19-second personal-best 24:18.98.
“That’s just the standard they’ve raised themselves, and we’re definitely going to keep it at Samford,” McGregor said.
Guillorel and Hazouri claimed All-SoCon First Team honors, while Bryant earned All-SoCon Second Team honors.
Freshman Dillon Dean (16th, 24:49.5) and junior Josh Salter (19th, 24:56.29) capped the Bulldogs’ scoring five. Their swift marks represented a significant reduction from their prior personal bests, as neither had previously broken 25 minutes for 8K.
Dean was named to the All-SoCon Freshman Team for his performance.
Collectively, the Samford men totaled 51 points and tallied a 24:22.84 team 8K average. The race marked the first time in program history the Bulldogs had five runners finish under 25 minutes.
Furman scored 22 points to capture its fourth-straight SoCon title. The Paladins’ Frank Lara snagged top individual honors in a time of 23:16.44.
The Bulldog cross-country teams will return to action on Saturday, Nov. 12, at the NCAA South Regionals in Tallahassee, Fla.