BRISTOL, Tenn. – For the second consecutive season, the King University men's cross country team will travel to the NCAA Championships to compete for a national title. With four All-Region performers and a second-place finish at the NCAA Region Championship on November 9, the Tornado will look to improve upon last year's 27th-place result at the national meet in Spokane, Wash on Saturday. In the women's race, the Tornado will be represented by senior Hannah Witt.
While the women's cross country team did not qualify for Saturday's NCAA Championship, King will be represented by Mountain City, Tenn. native Hannah Witt, who earned a spot in the national title meet by winning the NCAA Region Championship.
The senior has been virtually unbeatable this season after missing all but one race in 2012 due to injury. She has yet to finish behind an NCAA Division II runner this year, falling behind two NCAA Division I athletes and two unattached non-collegiate runners while winning four of her six competitions. In addition to owning the fastest time at King in both five and six kilometer races, she now owns four of the top 5K times and the top two 6K times in program history.
In every race this year, Witt has been nothing short of dominant. In the four races she has won, her smallest margin of victory was in the Mountaineer Open on October 4, which she won by 5.28 seconds over Virginia Tech's Sarah Rapp. No NCAA Division II runner has finished within 25.8 seconds of Witt all season. She was named Conference Carolinas Runner of the Year after winning the conference championship meet, and her victory at the NCAA Region Championship earned Witt the title of Southeast Region Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
Witt's only prior appearance in the national finals came during the 2010 season as a part of King's first team in any sport to compete in an NCAA championship event. She finished the snow-covered course in Louisville, Ky. in 24:15.6 as the fourth King runner across the line, giving her a 141st place overall finish.
Last year's individual national champion was a senior, but six of the top ten finishers from a season ago return in what is considered to be a wide open field. The top 40 overall finishers are named All-Americans, a goal that Witt will look to attain in her final race in a King uniform.
King's strongest asset has been its ability to run in a pack and score points in bunches. Each team's first five finishers are awarded points based on their final overall position, and the team with the lowest total score is the winner. Pack running allows a team to score in a group and prevent runners from other teams from receiving low scores, and the Tornado have been stellar at the strategy this season. King's five point-scoring positions have been separated by no more than 1:18 in any race this season, and saw just a 39.5 second spread over the 10 kilometer NCAA Regional Championship two weeks ago.
Headlining the Tornado in 2013 has been senior Spencer Frantom, a Morristown, Tenn. native that has been King's top finisher in every race this season. He ran the second- and third-fastest eight kilometer times in school history, and of his career, in the Royal Cross Country Challenge and the Conference Carolinas Championships last month.
Frantom also holds the all-time King record on a ten kilometer course, the length of NCAA regional and national championship events. Frantom's time of 30:31.3 at last year's national championship meet in Joplin, Mo. stands as the fastest ever at King, and he paced the Tornado with a time of 32:10.8 at this year's NCAA Regional Championship.
One of the Tornado's biggest contributors has been Bristol, Va. native Brent Swiney, a sophomore who has made a major impact in the second half of the season. After finishing in the fifth and final scoring position in King's first competition, Swiney has spent the last three races as the Tornado's No. 2 runner and has posted personal best times for both course lengths in each of his last two races.
Like Frantom, Swiney was named to both the all-conference and All-Region teams, and finished just 2.3 seconds behind his teammate for 16th place overall in the regional meet. In last year's NCAA Championship, his time of 33:27.8 was good for 226th position, a mark he will look to improve upon in 2013.
Freshman Tanner Cook, who hails from Abingdon, Va., has been a solid performer this season. He finished third at the NCAA Region Championship on his way to being named to the All-Region team and has finished in the top five for the Tornado in every race this season. Cook is best known for his consistency, with his fastest and slowest 8K times this season coming within 41.1 seconds of each other.
Both Cook and Swiney are adept at conserving energy in a race's early stages to make a late charge. At the Region Championship two weeks ago, the duo picked up 31 positions over the middle third of the race, helping to lift the Tornado from a tie for the third and final NCAA Championship-qualifying position into second place.
Junior Jordan Noe will continue his decorated career with the Tornado on Saturday in Spokane. A Morristown, Tenn. native, and high school teammate of Frantom, Noe was named 2012 Conference Carolinas Runner of the Year after winning the conference championship meet and has been steady for the Tornado in 2013. He is an All-Region performer this season and ran the second- and fifth-fastest 10K times in school history at last year's NCAA Championship and Region Championship meets. He finished in 111th position in last year's national championship event.
Naidi Hills, Kenya's Dickson Kurgat has been a consistent performer this season for the Tornado. In five races on eight kilometer courses this season, four of Kurgat's times are among the top 25 in school history, including a personal record time at the Royal Cross Country Challenge that ranks eighth on King's all-time list. He has finished between the second and fifth positions for the Tornado this season and is an all-conference performer.
Adams State University and Western State University, winners of the last five national titles, are the favorites to claim another championship this season. Adams State is the current No. 1 ranked team and has won four titles over the last five years, while second-ranked Western State won the national championship in 2011.