NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Though they'll be covering thousands of meters at this week's NCAA South Regional Championships, the cross country season as a whole feels an awful lot like a sprint.
There's just four regular-season meets to prepare for championship season and every race is a crucial stepping stone toward the next. In order to run their best at the most important meet -- that being Friday's South Regionals at Tuscaloosa, Ala. -- Belmont's harriers needed to trust the process.
The Bruins are peaking as the Regional starting line nears. The women's 40-team 6K race begins at 9 a.m. Friday with the men's 33-team 10K to follow at 10 a.m. at the University of Alabama's Harry Pritchett Running Park.
"Coming in it was really just all trusting the coaches, trusting they were going to allow us to be good at the right time," said Halle Hausman, a freshman from Johnson City, Tenn. "They really know what they're doing.
"I'm really excited because I can really see the training working and how running together as a team is working."
The women finished 17th with the men 12th at this meet a year ago in Tallahassee, Fla., but following successes at the recent Ohio Valley Conference Championships, expectations are much higher for the 2017 Regionals. The Bruins' women were second and the men third two weeks ago at the conference gathering.
"We want to finish strong so we've got some momentum and morale headed into next year," Belmont Cross Country Head Coach and Program Director Jeff Langdon said. "We're expecting to improve dramatically on that 17th place for the girls last year. Every race is a confidence builder for the entire team, especially the freshmen."
That's certainly the case for Hausman. She turned in her best 5K time of the season, a 17:48.7, at the conference meet as part of Belmont's surge of six personal records. She stepped up to run with leading Bruins like senior Jessica King (Fishers, Ind.) and Kortney Schardt (Lindenhurst, Ill.).
Belmont's top returning placer from last year's Regionals is senior Kiera Weems (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who was 74th overall. She was the second-highest Bruin placer.
You'd have to go back two years to get the full picture for the Belmont men entered in Friday's race. Sophomores Kaleb McLeod (Soperton, Ga.) and Declan McManus (Worcestershire, England) were 18th and 28th, respectively, in 2015. Both redshirted last season though.
McManus put together his best race of the season at the OVC meet to give the Bruins a 1-2 punch.
"Finally all the training paid off," said McManus, who had been slowed after recovering from a stress fracture. "I went off of Kaleb and felt comfortable again like my freshman year. It was a big confidence boost to get back to the front of the pack and feel like I did my freshman year."
Senior Matthew Edwards (Glamorgan, Wales) was Belmont's top Regionals placer a year ago in 50th, but he continues to recover from an October appendectomy.
The top two teams from the South Regionals advance to the NCAA National Championships along with the top four individual placers not part of those two teams. Nationals will be run Nov. 18 at Louisville, Ky.
LAST TIME OUT
The Belmont women finished second at the 12-team Ohio Valley Conference Championships two weeks ago. Jessica King placed 11th in a personal-record 17:44.3 and Kortney Schardt was 13th with her own PR, 17:45.1. The Bruin men were third behind 12th-place finisher Kaleb McLeod (24:39.5) and 14th-place Declan McManus (24:44.5), who ran a PR as well.
MEN'S FIELD (regional ranking)
East Tennessee St. (12)
Florida Gulf Coast
Florida State (4)
Georgia Tech (5)
Middle Tennessee St. (1)
North Florida (10)
Ole Miss (3)
UT Martin (14)
WOMEN'S FIELD (regional ranking)
East Tennessee St.
Florida Gulf Coast
Florida State (5)
Georgia Tech (8)
Middle Tennessee St.
Mississippi St. (3)
Mississippi Valley St.
North Florida (10)
Ole Miss (2)
Southern Miss (11)
ABOUT THE COURSE
The Harry Pritchett Running Park has been the exclusive home of Alabama cross country since its conversion from a golf course in November 2003. In addition to hosting the annual Crimson Classic, the facility has been the venue for the SEC Cross Country Championships as well as the NCAA South Regional Championships and is hosting the latter event for the sixth time in 2017. The Harry Pritchett Running Park has previously hosted the NCAA Regional in 2001, 2004, 2009, 2013 and 2015.
The running park is able to accommodate course lengths of 5,000, 6,000, 8,000 and 10,000 meters. The course is a flat to rolling all-grass surface with limited cart path crossings.
Men's 10K -- Felix Kiboiywo, Auburn, 2009 -- 29:35.85 (NCAA South Regional)
Women's 6K -- Dominique Scott, Arkanas, 2014 -- 19:22.8 (SEC Championships)
From Veterans Memorial Parkway & Loop Road: From University of Alabama Campus & Sheraton Four Points to Harry Pritchett Running Park Take Paul Bryant Drive East to Hwy. 82. Go east on Hwy. 82 (to 2nd traffic light) and make a left (east) on 15th street. Go east on 15th street and continue until you see a sign for Arboretum. You must be in the right lane to take this exit. Go straight off the exit. Make a left and follow road as it curves down the hill. When the road splits at the bottom of the hill, go right into the course entrance. Teams, Officials, etc., please show your parking pass.
From East/ West of Tuscaloosa to Harry Pritchett Running Park: Take I-20/ 59 to exit 73 (Hwy. 82). Go west on Hwy. 82 through several traffic lights to 15th street (the light after the University Mall). Make a right (east) on 15th street and continue until you see a sign for Arboretum. You must be in the right lane to take this exit. Go straight off the exit. Make a left and follow road as it curves down the hill. When the road splits at the bottom of the hill, go right into the course entrance. Teams, Officials, etc., please show your parking pass.