The Oglethorpe cross country teams make their return this weekend, and they'll look to build on a 2016 season in which they showed improvement over the course of the season and at the SAA Championships. The men's team finished sixth and the women seventh at that event, marking the highest finishes for either program in their brief SAA history. Now, they'll look to continue to move up the standings as they try to climb to the next tier this season.
On the men's side, the team will return seven competitors from last year's squad, all of them sophomores. In addition, junior Rodrigo Meade, a veteran of the track and field program in distance running, will come aboard for the cross country season for the first time. Nick Evans, Mateo Villa, Jonathan Vernon, Nick Berardi, Andrew Aycock and Will Pursell make up the group of returning athletes.
"We're excited to return six of our top seven runners from last year, and we're excited to see what they can do this year," said Shellhouse. "They all had great summers, many of them coming off of outstanding track and field seasons. Mateo finished ninth in the 10-kilometer at the conference track meet; Berardi had a great track season, as well. Vernon is coming off setting an Oglethorpe freshman record in the men's cross country 8-kilometer distance, too. It's a very solid group."
Nine newcomers will join the fray for the Stormy Petrels. The class is highlighted by Jacob Haddon and Jackson Reilly, both of whom should be able to make an immediate impact. Tre' Rice and Ousman Faal join them as middle distance guys who should bring a different aspect to the team. The rest of the newcomers have various strengths that also play well with the team.
The season will start on Friday with the Georgia NCAA Division III Invitational. After that initial meet against local Division III competition, the Petrels will then go to back-to-back meets where they'll face off against a variety of Division I and Division II competition. The Furman Invitational is set to take place Sept. 9 in Greenville, South Carolina, and the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Florida, on Sept. 23. After that, they'll return to local Division III competition, as they go up I-985 to Demorest for the Piedmont Invitational and head back to Mount Berry for the Berry Invitational.
The Petrels will host the SAA Championships this season at Nash Farm Battlefield in Hampton, just south of Atlanta. It'll mark the first time that Oglethorpe has hosted the SAA Cross Country Championships, and their first time hosting a conference meet since the 2009 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers.
After that, the Petrels will take a week off before getting ready to travel to Newport News, Virginia, for the NCAA Division III South/Southeast Regional, hosted by Christopher Newport.
"Overall, I'm excited for this young group, and I'm really excited to see if they can learn as they go along," said Shellhouse. "We took a jump forward last year, moving up to sixth and seventh at the conference meet. We'd like to take another jump forward this year, too, and I think this group can accomplish that. I can't wait for us to get started!"