On Saturday, Sept. 2, it was start-anew time for the Milligan College cross country team.
Milligan competed in the Western Carolina Invitational in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The women's team, going into the meet, was preseason nationally ranked 16th and the men were ranked 24th.
Both teams had lost big names like four-time national champion Hannah Segrave and All-American Taylor Tafelsky to graduation, but the new crop of freshman stepped right in where the seniors left off.
Freshman Tim Thacker from Knoxville stepped right into the lead position for the Buffs and finished a resounding sixth place amongst a loaded Division I field that included the University of Georgia and host Western Carolina. Thacker even recorded a 55-second personal best for the 5,000 meter course with a 15:42.
“Tim is not afraid and that is good to see out of a freshman,” said head coach Chris Layne. “He had a good summer and is just chomping at the bit to get out there.”
Last year’s Appalachian Athletic Conference freshman of the year Mitchell Bronstetter (Daniel Boone) finished 14th with a time of 16:09 to be the second man across the line for the Buffs.
“Mitch and Tim are two differently built athletes, but they work great together,” said Layne.
Freshman Nathan Baker did not run in the meet, but Layne said that the threesome of Thacker, Baker and Bronstetter will be a force to deal with on the conference level. The men’s team is composed of mostly freshman and sophomores with the exception of one junior and one senior. The men took third overall in the team competition, ahead of local competitors King University and Emory & Henry College.
The women are a more experienced group with four seniors and a graduate student, but they have a combined eight freshman and sophomores. At Western Carolina, sophomore Katlyn Haas led the Buffs with a two-mile best of 11:28, placing eighth while senior Sarah Kate Gartman finished right behind her in ninth with a 11:29. Layne said that freshman Amy Ferguson (Providence Academy) was out due to illness. Ferguson is projected to be one of the top freshman for the Buffs this season. The women also finished third, only seven points behind Western Carolina.
“We had a great freshman recruiting class and our program has shown to develop kids over time,” said Layne. “I believe that Tim can be really good and would eventually be good at something like the marathon. I think that is one of the things that attracted him to NAIA.”
Layne said that Thacker has made a definite impact at practice and wanted to step into the leadership role despite being just a freshman. Layne has had to hold him back a bit, but he left him go after the pack of Georgia harriers last weekend.
The Buffs will again be in action on Sept. 23 at the Asheville Cross Country Invitational in Asheville, North Carolina.