GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum University men's and women's cross country teams will open their 2019 season on Friday, Sept. 6 when they host the annual Zaxby's Open on the Holston Home for Children course in Greeneville.
In addition to the Pioneers, seven other schools are committed participating in the fourth annual meet: Lincoln Memorial and UVa-Wise from the South Atlantic Conference, along with Brevard, Southern Wesleyan, Milligan, Warren Wilson and Walters State.
The women's race will begin at 6 p.m. followed by the men's race at 6:40 p.m. Both races are five kilometers in distance around the Holston Home course, Admission to the meet is free and open to the public, and the entrance to the parking area is off the 70 Bypass between Benbow Road and Wesley Avenue. (1485 TN-70, Greeneville TN 37743).
Tusculum's men won the Zaxby's Open last year for the second time in three years, led by individual champion Will Cronin. The Pioneer women were sixth overall last year, led by Alissa Furches who took sixth place.
"It will be great to measure up against solid competition on Friday," said Pratt, who begins his seventh season as head coach having led both squads to seventh place at last year's SAC Championship meet. "Battling against the heat, a tough home course, and a competitive field is exactly what this group needs early in the season. We will be able to really evaluate where we are early on, and see what needs to worked on as we fine-tune over the next eight to 10 weeks."
Nicole McMillen will begin her first full season as a member of the cross country team as a graduate student after making a stellar debut at the end of last season. A four-year member of the Pioneer women's soccer team who was also competing on the track & field squad, McMillen joined cross country at the end of soccer season in November and made an immediate impact. The Pickering, Ontario native earned first-team All-SAC honors after finishing fifth at the conference championship meet in her first collegiate race, then grabbed All-Region status and earned a trip to nationals by finishing fifth at the Southeast Region championship. McMillen then placed 59th overall out of 266 runners at the NCAA Division II Championship.
Furches had two top-10 finishes and was the Pioneers' leading runner in each of their regular-season meets over the past two seasons. The senior from Greeneville and graduate of South Greene High School was 25th at the SAC Championship and 30th at regionals. Furches was honorable mention All-SAC in 2017 when she placed 20th at the conference championship meet.
Junior Emily Stoklosa returns for her senior season after not running for the Pioneers last fall. Stoklosa was the team's top runner as a freshman when she finished 36th at the SAC Championship. The Homer Glen, Illinois native is a past winner of the Zaxby's Open, taking the title in 2016.
Senior Brooklyn Smith (Cumberland Gap, Tenn.) is the only Pioneer to have run three times at the SAC championship and NCAA regional meets. Smith was 56th at the conference meet and 117th at the Southeast Regional last fall, to go along with a 12th-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic.
A trio of freshmen will also make an impact for the Pioneers -- Gabrielle Beckett (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.), Erin Bruce (Jonesborough, Tenn.) and Emmi Hulse (Jonesborough, Tenn.). Beckett was a four-time team MVP at Soddy Daisy High School and advanced to the state meet three times, while Bruce was All-Conference and All-Region at Daniel Boone High School. Hulse competed at David Crockett High School and helped her team to the state meet as a junior.
Senior Brittany Bowery (Knoxville, Tenn.) returns to the roster this season after competing during the 2017 season, while junior Yoland Boyce (Brooklyn, N.Y.) will miss the start of the season after being the Pioneers' third-best finisher at both the SAC (52nd) and Southeast Region (115th) championship meets.
Cronin won the Zaxby's Open and followed up with a ninth-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Invitational, but missed the remainder of the cross country season with an injury. The junior from Greeneville High School graduate was the Pioneers' top finisher at the 2017 SAC Championship with a 29th-place showing.
Sophomore Kyler Hodges was second at last year's Zaxby's Open and added a ninth-place finish at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic. The Casselberry, Florida native was 21st at the SAC Championships and was the Pioneers' top finisher at regionals with a 29th-place showing. Senior Kyle Stanley (Chaguanas, Trinidad & Tobago) competed in five events last year, including 26th place at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic and 104th at the NCAA Southeast Regional, and sophomore Alex Perez (Aviles, Spain) had a season-best finish of 20th at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic.
More depth will come from senior Taylor Tupps and sophomore Carson Walls. Tupps, a Greeneville native and graduate of Chuckey-Doak High School, was second at the Lenoir-Rhyne Classic, sixth at the Zaxby's Open and 11th at the North Georgia Invitational for the Pioneers in his first season, while Walls (Gray, Tenn.) came out of Daniel Boone High School and ran at both the conference and regional meets among his seven competitions as a freshman, as did junior Isaac Hybarger.
New to the roster are freshmen Antonio Aparicio (Valencia, Spain), who was part of a national champion team in cross country in his native Spain, and Max Blevins (Hixson, Tenn.), who was three-time team Most Valuable Player at Soddy Daisy High School.