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McMillen qualifies for nationals for second straight year, Hodges earns All-Region honors

Nicole McMillen approaches the finish line at the NCAA Division II Southeast Region meet (photo provided by Wingate University)
Nicole McMillen approaches the finish line at the NCAA Division II Southeast Region meet (photo provided by Wingate University)

WINGATE, N.C. --- Tusculum University's Nicole McMillen qualified for the NCAA Division II Women's Cross Country Championship following her second-place finish at the Southeast Regional Saturday morning at the Wingate University XC Facility.

McMillen finished second to four-time region champion Leah Hanle of Mount Olive, but becomes the first Tusculum runner since Amanda Musick in 2003 and 2004 to earn a trip to nationals in consecutive years. The Pioneer women finished 11th overall in a field of 26 teams, and sixth among the South Atlantic Conference schools in the field.

In the men's race, Kyler Hodges earned All-Region honors with an 18th-place finish as the Pioneers earned a 12th-place finish in a field of 24 schools. Tusculum was sixth among the SAC teams that competed in the regional meet, matching its finish from the conference championship.

The NCAA Division II Cross Country Championship will be held Saturday, November 23 in Sacramento, California.

McMillen, who won the South Atlantic Conference championship on the same course two weeks earlier, crossed the line in 21:02.1 over the six-kilometer course to cut 35 seconds off her time from the conference championship meet. Leah Hanle of Mount Olive won the regional championship for the fourth straight year as she crossed the line in 20:53.0, just over nine seconds ahead of McMillen. Third-place Micah Weathers of Augusta ran 21:42.9 and finished 40 seconds behind McMillen in the standings.

McMillen, who was also honored as All-Region for her performance, now has four wins and two runner-up finishes in six races this season, and has eight top-five results in nine career starts. The Pickering, Ontario native was fifth at regionals last season and went on to a 59th-place finish at the NCAA Championship.

Senior Alissa Furches had a 38th-place finish for the Pioneers with a time of 23:29.7, nearly 17 seconds better than her performance on the course at the SAC Championship, and freshman Emmi Hulse took 89th place in 25:02.2. Freshman Erin Bruce cut more than 40 seconds from her SAC time as she finished 93rd overall in 25:16.7, and freshman Gabrielle Beckett was 103rd overall with a time of 25:41.4 that beat her SAC time by 11 seconds.

Rounding out the lineup for the Pioneers was four-time regional competitor Brooklyn Smith, who was 121st overall in the field of 181 runners, but ran more than a minute faster than her SAC performance as she crossed the line in 27:41.9.

Queens defended its region championship from a year ago by putting its top five finishers in the top 20 and scoring 64 points. Flagler had two top-10 runners and was 2nd with 100 points, while host Wingate claimed the third automatic berth to the NCAA Championship with 135 points, just ahead of Anderson (162) and North Georgia (164).

Hodges, who was sixth at the SAC Championship two weeks ago, placed seventh among the SAC runners in the regional field and turned in a time of 32:13.8 over the 10-kilometer course. The Casselberry, Florida sophomore's 18th-place finish was up 11 spots from last year's 29th-place showing. He is the first Tusculum runner to be recognized as All-Region since David Cooper in both 2012 and 2013.

Senior Taylor Tupps was 53rd overall, up nine positions from last season, with a time of 33:54.3. Sophomore Alex Perez was the only Pioneer running in his first regional meet, and finished in 61st place with a time of 34:15.2. Senior Kyle Stanley was 91st overall with a time of 35:24.5, moving up 13 positions from last season, while sophomore Carson Walls climbed 32 spots and took 102nd overall in 35:52.7. The final Pioneer runner duplicated his regional finish from last year, as junior Isaac Hybarger was 145th in the field of 157 runners with a time of 39:54.3.

Sophomore Joshua Chepkesir of UNC Pembroke won his second straight regional championship with a time of 30:30.7, beating Jacob Poston of Augusta to the finish line by 35 seconds. Queens had four runners in the top 10 and won the region again this year, scoring 43 points to edge Augusta which had three top-10 runners and collected 47 points. Mount Olive (75 points) earned the third NCAA team berth, followed by Flagler (144) and Wingate (147) in the top five.

NCAA Division II Southeast Regional
at Wingate, N.C.
Tusculum finishers: 2. Nicole McMillen, 21:02.1; 38. Alissa Furches, 23:29.7; 89. Emmi Hulse, 25:02.2; 93. Erin Bruce, 25:16.7; 103. Gabrielle Beckett, 25:41.4; 121. Brooklyn Smith, 26:32.4.
Team scores: 1. Queens, 64; 2. Flagler, 100; 3. Wingate, 135; 4. Anderson, 162; 5. North Georgia, 164; 11. Tusculum, 305.

Tusculum finishers: 18. Kyler Hodges, 32:13.8; 53. Taylor Tupps, 33:54.3; 61. Alex Perez, 34:15.2; 91. Kyle Stanley, 35:24.5; 102. Carson Walls, 35:52.7; 145. Isaac Hybarger, 39:54.3.
Team scores: 1. Queens, 43; 2. Augusta, 47; 3. Mount Olive, 75; 4. Flagler, 144; 5. Wingate, 147; 12. Tusculum, 323.






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