By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Tennessee Tech cross country road tour rolls on, as coach Wayne Angel's teams head north for the Greater Louisville Classic on Saturday morning at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park.
Fresh off the Mountain Dew Invitational, another meet characterized by a historic performance from Purity Sanga and a top finish for the surging men's team, the Golden Eagles move on to what will undoubtedly be the largest meet of their season.
The enormous field of 320 men's teams and 327 women's teams scheduled to compete at the Greater Louisville Classic is broken into five total races, three for the men (Gold, Blue, Silver) and two for the women (Gold, Blue).
Both Tech teams will run in the Gold sections for their respective genders, which feature's the meet's premier talent. The Gold races will also be the first two held Saturday morning, with the men's eight-kilometer competition leading off at 8:30 a.m. CT and the women following at 9:15.
"We're looking forward to competing at the Greater Louisville Classic this weekend, one of the biggest meets held across the country," said head coach Wayne Angel. "It will be our toughest competition to date, but we're excited to see where we stack up with some of the best programs out there. Most importantly, we're looking to continue our growth and development as we prepare for big picture success at our conference championship."
As Angel alluded to, the collection of highly talented teams at the Greater Louisville is the deepest Tech has encountered so far this season. Of the 30 teams in the men's Gold race, 11 are ranked by the USTFCCCA, including Tech, which maintained its No. 8 ranking in the South Region this week.
Middle Tennessee and Rice headline the pack as the two top-five teams in their respective regions, as MTSU occupies the No. 3 position in the South Region and the Rice is fourth in the South Central.
The USTFCCCA's Southeast region is also strongly represented with three ranked teams in the fold. OVC powerhouse Eastern Kentucky is the best one at No. 6, Campbell is ninth, Kentucky is 10th, and the host Louisville is 14th.
Campbell was the top team in the region heading into last week, but fell eight spots after a sixth-place team finish at Boston College's Battle of Beantown on Sept. 21.
The rankings show Tech to be the third-best team in attendance from the South Region, after MTSU and No. 7 Belmont, who Tech nearly beat two weeks ago at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic. The region's No. 14 and No. 15 teams, East Tennessee State and Memphis, add depth to its strong representation.
IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis) is the final ranked team, holding the No. 14 spot in the Great Lakes Region.
"We want to continue to feed off of the positive momentum that we have established thus far in order to find success," Angel said. "Yes, it is a very tough field, but it's necessary for us to elevate our game and race in tougher meets to make the proper improvements."
"Our goals this week are to focus on our mental toughness, and to work on closing the gap between our first and fifth runners. We must be two well-synchronized running groups by the time OVC championships are here."
The women's side will be comprised of 28 teams, eight of which are ranked.
The University of Michigan's women's team is the highest-ranked, coming in at No. 2 in the Great Lakes Region.
SMU (Southern Methodist) is right behind as the third-ranked team in the South Central, and Mississippi State is slotted at No. 5 in the South.
The other five ranked opponents hail from the South and Southeast Regions. Middle Tennessee and Belmont come in as Nos. 13 and 14 in the South, while EKU (No. 8), Kentucky (No. 11) and Louisville (No. 14) are the representatives from the Southeast.
The meet will also be another opportunity to compete against a solid sample of OVC teams, as Tech will see Morehead State, Southeast Missouri and UT Martin for the first time this season, along with more familiar adversaries Belmont and EKU.
"We would love to come out and be the best two teams at this meet, but its important to keep everything in perspective," Angel said. "At the end of the day, this competition – and all of the early meets we're in – is an opportunity to evaluate our training and ensure we are on course."
"I'm very pleased at how we have been competing as a team over the first few weeks, both individually and as a team. If we continue to work together and encourage each other, the race will take care of itself."
Photo by Thomas Corhern