GREENVILLE, N.C. - The East Carolina men's and women's cross country teams open the 2012 season on Friday evening at the Seahawk Invitational in Wilmington, N.C. Both squads have high expectations as many top runners return and a new crop of talented individuals are set to make their Pirate debuts.
The ECU men's and women's cross country teams are expected to be joined by 10 other North Carolina-based schools in the 23rd Annual Seahawk Invitational on the campus of UNC Wilmington. Among the other cross country programs in attendance are Barton, Campbell, Guilford, Meredith, Methodist, Peace, Pfeiffer, Shaw, St. Andrews and UNCW. The Pirates have had success at the Seahawk Invitational in the past with the men's program winning the competition from 1998-2000 and the women's team earning the championship in 2000. ECU's women's team had a banner season last fall in finishing fourth at the conference meet and only trailing third place by three points. The finish was the highest-ever tallied by the women's squad as the previous best mark was a fifth-place showing in 2001. The Pirates return 11 members that were on last year's team with eight having conference championship experience during their time at ECU. The team also brought in three newcomers to the squad this season in freshmen Rachel Rice, Jessica Rossabi and Shewit Weldense.
The women's team is led by senior Brooke Kott. Kott had a strong junior year for the Pirates in earning All-Conference USA Third Team honors. She placed 15th (17:53.4) at the conference championship among the 92 runners that competed. The improvement was a 42-spot jump from her previous high placement in 2008.The Millville, N.J. native followed up her all-conference performance and finished 82nd at the NCAA Southeast Regional in a personal-best 6K time of 22:07.9. That time also ranks her 12th all-time at ECU in a 6K event.
Fellow senior Britney Kott competed in five of the seven meets for the Pirates with a 19:12.7 at the Wolfpack Invitational ranking as her top 5K time of the season and in her career. She also gained experience in her first career Conference USA Championship meet and ranked 67th of 92 competitors with a 19:42.8.
Junior Bjork Olsen is another key returner for the women's squad. Olsen ran and competed for ECU in all seven meets as a sophomore and has not missed a competition since arriving on campus from Torshavn, Faroe Island. Olsen placed in the top-50 in five of seven competitions as a sophomore. She ran a season-low 5k time of 18:29.9 at the Wolfpack Invitational in the season's second collegiate meet to place18th; finished fourth (18:44.88) at the ECU Pirates Invitational, placed 47th (19:02.6) at the conference meet and earned a top-140 ranking for the squad at the NCAA Southeast Regionals.
Fellow junior Amanda Tomlin was able to compete in six of the seven meets last season for ECU and finished 49th (19:05.0) at the Conference USA Championships. Her low time in the 5K on the campaign came during the Wolfpack Invitational when she placed 24th with an 18:50.7.
Last season, redshirt sophomore Stefanie Fresenius competed in six meets for the Pirates. At the conference competition Fresenius had the second-best ranking of any of this year's returners (36th - 18:33.8). She placed in the top-50 in four meets for ECU throughout the season.
Junior Chelsea Hollingsworth sported her best 5K time of the season and in her career (18:22.0) when she finished 15th out of 96 competitors at the Wolfpack Invitational. Hollingsworth ran seven times for the Pirates as a sophomore and placed in the top-50 four times.
The men's team, who only had two upperclassmen on the roster in 2011, placed seventh of eight competitors at the Conference USA Championships a season ago. The squad remains a youthful group with only four upperclassmen plus the addition of two newcomers in Dylan Traywick and John Young.
Junior Jakub Trzasalski leads the way for the men. Trzasalski was the men's top finisher in five of the seven meets as a sophomore. He was named the Conference USA Male Athlete-of-the-Week on Sept. 27, 2011 after finishing as the runner-up at the ECU Pirates Invitational in a time of 15:51.80. Trzasalski ran a season and career low 15:23.5 to earn 14th place at the Wolfpack Invitational in the second week of the 2011 season. His time also ranks him sixth all-time at ECU in the 5K. The Barlinek, Poland native was the team's top finisher, 27th, at the Conference USA Championships in a 6K time of 25:40.
Senior Antonio Palmer and sophomore Adam Morrow were the other two members of last year's team to compete in all seven meets. Palmer's best time in the 5K (16:08.7) came when he finished 26th at the Wolfpack Invitational, while Morrow's top finish saw him run a 16:36 and rank 32nd in the 5K at the Three-Stripes Invitational in the last meet of the campaign. Palmer placed among the top-50 runners in five meets as a junior. Morrow earned three top-50 finishes on the season.
Redshirt junior Cory Hampshire, who competed three times last season in an unattached role, also returns for the men. Hampshire was one of the top runners on the squad at the 2010 Conference USA Championships when he ranked 28th. Also expected to give the squad a boost is junior Michael Quercia. Quercia ran six times for ECU as a sophomore with his best placing coming at the ECU Pirates Invitational when he ranked sixth (16:14.8). The University of Texas transfer placed in the top-50 in four meets for ECU in his first year with the squad. He ran a personal-low 5K at the Wolfpack Invitational, clocking a 16:13.8 to finish 28th in the event.
After opening the season Friday with the Seahawk Invitational, the Pirates have a week off before traveling to N.C. State for the adidas XC Invitational on Friday, Sept. 14.