ROCK HILL, S.C. -- After a fifth-place run in the 2013 South Atlantic Conference Championship meet, the Railsplitters were selected to move up one spot in 2014, finishing tied for fourth in the SAC men's cross country preseason coaches' poll, which the league unveiled on Thursday.
In five regular-season races in 2013, the Railsplitters earned a top-five placement at the Berea Invitational, a 10th-place showing in the loaded Greater Louisville Classic and a win at the Tiger Twilight Invitational, a head-to-head race against the University of the South. Those events were a prelude to a strong postseason for Lincoln Memorial that included a fifth-place run at the SAC Championship in Black Mountain, N.C. as well as a 13th-place turn at the NCAA Southeast Region meet.
With a solid crop of returning talent, the Railsplitters are expected to finish amongst the top half of the South Atlantic Conference once again, receiving 80 points to notch a tie fourth in the preseason coaches' poll.
The Railsplitters bring back two of the top-three runners from last season's squad, including junior Ryan Mecca (Niagara Falls, Ontario), an All-SAC First Team finisher in 2013. A 2013 All-SAC Second Team runner, senior Brandon Ward (Kingsport, Tenn.) also returns to the course for the Railsplitters in the upcoming season. Along with those two student-athletes, the Railsplitters' roster was rejuvenated with the influx of six fresh faces.
Riding a nearly unthinkable streak of 17-consecutive SAC Championship titles, the Mars Hill Lions collected 10 first-place votes - one shy of the maximum possible - to take the top spot in the poll with 120 points. The Lions had three All-SAC First Team runners and two second-team racers in the 2013 conference championship, and four of those five are slated to return for the 2014 campaign.
The 2013 SAC Championship runner-up, Queens received 112 points bolstered by two first-place votes. The Royals will benefit from the return of the defending SAC Men's Cross Country Runner of the Year and All-American Felix Duchampt.
Coming in one spot ahead of the Railsplitters, the Anderson Trojans were awarded 95 points to take third in the preseason rankings. The Trojans finished the 2013 conference championship race in third with one All-SAC Second Team runner.
After edging the Railsplitters by only five points in last season's league championship, the Brevard Tornados finished tied with LMU in the preseason coaches' poll with 80 points. Just behind the 'Splitters and Tornados, the Wingate Bulldogs rounded out the top half in sixth with 78 points.
No.7 Lenoir-Rhyne (68), No.8 Carson-Newman (42), No.9 Tusculum (38), No.10 Coker (28), No.11 Catawba (27) and No.12 Newberry (24) completed the coaches' poll results in the bottom six.
The Railsplitters open the 2014 campaign on September 5 in Salisbury, N.C. at the Catawba Invitational. Lincoln Memorial is slated for five regular-season events before returning to Salisbury for the South Atlantic Conference Championship on November 8.
SAC Men's Cross Country Preseason Coaches' Poll
School Points (First-place votes)
Mars Hill 120 (10)
Queens 112 (2)
Lincoln Memorial 80