GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- After finishing sixth in both the men's and women's team standings at the South Atlantic Conference Championship meet, the Tusculum University cross country teams return to Wingate University for the NCAA Southeast Regional on Saturday.
The women's six-kilometer race will begin at 9 a.m. followed by the men's 10-kilometer race at 10:15 a.m. The top three teams will advance to the NCAA Division II Championships in Sacramento, California on Saturday, November 23. The top two individuals not part of a qualifying team (either automatic or at-large) will also advance to the national championship meet.
Nicole McMillen is among the favorites to win the women's individual championship on Saturday. McMillen finished fifth overall last year and qualified for the NCAA Division II Championship meet, where she finished in 59th place. The Pickering, Ontario native won the SAC championship two weeks ago on the same course where the regional meet is taking place, taking gold by more than 25 seconds with a time of 21:37.4 to become Tusculum's first SAC champion since 2003.
McMillen has four race wins and a runner-up finish in five events this fall, and has finished in the top five in seven of her eight career events. She is bidding to become the first Pioneer to run at nationals in consecutive years since Amanda Musick in 2003 and 2004.
Senior Alissa Furches will be running at the Southeast Region meet for the third straight year for the Pioneers, finishing 30th last season and 46th overall in 2017. Furches was 24th at the SAC Championship meet with a time of 23:46.3.
A trio of freshmen will be making their regional debut for the Pioneers after solid performances at the SAC meet. Emmi Hulse was 38th overall in 24:59.4, Gabrielle Beckett placed 50th in 25:52.8 and Erin Bruce finished 51st with a time of 25:57.7.
The veteran of the Pioneer squad is senior Brooklyn Smith, who will be running in the regional meet for the fourth time. Smith finished 159th overall as a freshman, and improved to 119th place as a sophomore. Last season, Smith crossed the line in 117th place in the field. Smith took 65th at this year's SAC Championship with a time of 27:41.9.
Queens is the defending region champion, having beaten Flagler and Anderson for the title a year ago. Leah Hanle of Mount Olive has won the individual championship each of the last three years, including last year by 11 seconds.
Five of the six Pioneers who will be running at this year's Southeast Regional also competed last season, when Tusculum finished 14th out of 22 teams.
Sophomore Kyler Hodges earned a sixth-place finish at the SAC Championship with a time of 26:14.0. Last season, Hodges placed 29th overall as a freshman to lead all Tusculum runners. Senior Taylor Tupps was 36th at this year's SAC meet, following a 62nd-place showing in the region a year ago. Sophomore Alex Perez was third among Pioneer runners at the SAC Championship, coming in 33rd place, and is the lone first-time regional competitor for Tusculum.
Senior Kyle Stanley was 45th at the SAC Championship and placed 104th in the region last year, and sophomore Carson Walls turned in a 56th-place finish at the conference meet and was 134th in the region as a freshman. Junior Isaac Hybarger ran 86th at the SAC Championships and crossed the line in 145th place a year ago at the Southeast Region meet.
The Queens men, which won its third straight SAC championship last month, will attempt to defend the region title from a year ago when the Royals finished ahead of Mount Olive and Augusta. UNC Pembroke sophomore Joshua Chepkesir is the reigning individual champion after winning his second straight Peach Belt Conference championship two weeks ago.