HARROGATE, Tenn. - The Lincoln Memorial University women's cross country program heads into the quickly approaching 2014 season with several proven returners and a large freshman recruiting class. In 2013, the Lady Railsplitters posted a pair of top-five team finishes, taking fourth place at the Berea Invitational as well as the Hyder-McMahill Invitational. A seventh-place outing at the South Atlantic Conference Championship meet and a 19th place run at the NCAA Southeast Regional wrapped up the season.
The 2014 campaign looks to be a season on the rise for the Lady Railsplitters, as the team returns a large portion of its top performers from a season ago. Leading the crop of returning talent, senior Aura Penalosa (Bogota, Columbia) and junior Ontario Belter (Somerset, Wis.) are back after pacing the Lady Railsplitters in the SAC Championship race with 20th and 25th place finishes, respectively. Penalosa was the team's top finisher throughout the 2014 campaign, highlighted by a career-best fourth-place turn at the Berea Invitational, which was followed up with a 12th place run at the Hyder-McMahill Invitational. Belter, meanwhile, is expected to return to her freshman season form which earned the Somerset, Wis. native a preseason All-SAC selection in 2013. Last season, Belter was consistently among the top two runners on the squad, managing three top 25 outings including a ninth-place finish at the Berea Invitational.
Additionally, Lincoln Memorial is counting on continued contributions from sophomores Whitney Elliot (Lafollette, Tenn.), Taylor Grigsby (Middlesboro, Ky.) and Carly Kane (Union, Ky.), while senior Jamie Collins (Pineville, Ky.) and her sister, junior Brittany Collins (Pineville, Ky.), along with junior Haley Hilliard (Sterling Heights, Mich.) look to benefit the large assembly of unexperienced freshmen with loaded potential.
"We look for the returners to be a big part of helping this large freshman class adjust and be successful," said head women's cross country coach Jeremy Donahue.
The aforementioned returners will be supplemented by a talented group of incoming freshmen, paced by Katie Swindle (Lafayette, Tenn.), Angela Kendall (Orleans, Ind.) and Layney Vincent (Louisville, Ky.), a trio that has shown incredible progress through the preseason according to Donahue. In addition, Kelly Brown (Pineville, Ky.), Caroline Cravens (Crossville, Tenn.) and Allie Vincent (Louisville, Ky.) also look to make an immediate impact this season.
"We look to kind of shake off some bad end of the year performances of years past with the runners we have this year," Donahue continued. "We really have bigger expectations heading into this year. We want to move into the top half and higher up in the top half of the conference. Not just to make a spot or two jump, we really want to compete with Wingate, Queens, Mars Hill, some of those teams at the top."
The Lady Railsplitters are slated for five regular season races, beginning in Salisbury, N.C. on September 5 in the Catawba Invitational. Following that run, Lincoln Memorial heads to the Bluegrass State for three-consecutive races, taking on the Centre Invitational on September 13, the Berea Invitational on September 20 and the Greater Louisville Classic on October 4. In the final tune-up prior to the postseason, the Lady Railsplitters head further north to Wilmington, Ohio for the Jenna Strong Fall Classic on October 17.
The 2014 South Atlantic Conference Championship meet is scheduled for November 8 in Salisbury, N.C., while the NCAA Southeast Regional race will be held in Montevallo, Ala. just two weeks later.