LUMBERTON, N.C. - The GEICO Peach Belt Conference Cross Country Championship starts Saturday, beginning with the women's race at 8:30 a.m., and the Georgia College & State University cross country teams are looking to obtain that first elusive PBC title on both sides.
The cross country programs at Georgia College have continued to improve in each of the recent seasons, and both teams have championship banners in sight. The highest finish for the Bobcat men came in a runner-up slot in 2006. For the women it was third place, obtained in the 2007 season.
Columbus State University is the perennial superpower, taking both the men's and women's championships in 2008, but the Bobcat women beat CSU earlier this year in the Mercer University race, and both teams continue to take the steps to battle for that top spot.
The women are led by a two-time PBC Runner of the Week in senior Heather Raines (Lawrenceville, Ga.). Raines has finished in the top-10 in three of her five races this year, and hasn't come any lower than 27th. She also won the Southern Challenge at Chattahoochee Tech.
Pushing Raines for that top spot is classmate Virginia Balkcom (Fayetteville, Ga.), who was tops on the team at the aforementioned Mercer meet. Team titles are often won by the next placing spots, and it could be sophomores Karissa Ekstrom (Alpharetta, Ga.), Sarah Balkcom (Fayetteville, Ga.) and Victoria Dobson (New Hamburg, Ontario) or senior Alycia Hayes (Cumming, Ga.) that provide the times necessary.
On the men's side, two-time All-PBC harrier Josh Hollar (Canton, Ga.) will compete in his last PBC Championships as a senior. He's only run in a pair of races this year, battling injuries and illness for the majority of the season, and will do his best to lead the ‘Cats at the conference meet. He did lead GCSU in both the meets he ran this season, highlighted by taking 11th overall at Division I University of Texas-San Antonio. Junior Tim Cary (Monroe, Ga.) has shown himself as a team leader, pacing the Bobcats at two races this season, including a pair of top-20 finishes among four races.
Sophomores will be key to the men's team success, as the emerging Travis Knight (Oxford, Ga.), joins Rob Manning (Lawrenceville, Ga.), Michael Heuett (Snellville, Ga.) and Colin Conroy (Dacula, Ga.) finish in any order to displace points for the team.
The men's race begins at 9:15 a.m.
The GCSU Department of Athletics, winners of the 2008-09 PBC Commissioner's Cup, sponsors 10 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, Georgia College prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as Twitter.com username GCSUSID for up-to-the-minute reports, and visit documented academic success and community-service involvement. Sign up at www.GCSUBobcats.com to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GCSU Athletics Hall of Fame.