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Milligan women claim AAC title, men finish second

From Staff Reports • Updated Nov 4, 2017 at 6:55 PM

Senior Sarah Kate Gartman led the No. 12 Milligan College women's cross country team to its 14th Appalachian Athletic Conference title in the last 15 years on Saturday with a runner-up finish in the 5K.

Freshman Nathan Baker led the No. 22 Milligan men to a runner-up AAC finish with a third-place effort in the 8K. The AAC Championships were hosted by Reinhardt University at Boling Park in Canton, Ga.

With Milligan's top five women placing in the top seven, all five were all-conference honorees. Joining Gartman, who produced a time of 18:24.49, on that list are senior J.J. Robinson (fourth, 18:44.54), sophomore Katlyn Haas (fifth, 18:54.25), freshman Erica Stone (sixth, 19:00.30) and freshman Amy Ferguson (seventh, 19:00.34).

The Lady Buffs and 14th-ranked SCAD Atlanta came in as the conference favorites. Though the Lady Bees had the overall first place winner in Emily Kearney, Milligan having five in the top seven enabled the Buffs to beat SCAD Atlanta by a solid 13 points.

"I am so proud of our women and the way they raced today," said Milligan’s Chris Layne, who was named AAC Women's Coach of the Year for the 14th time. "They had to take on a very good SCAD Atlanta team, so I think our performance speaks to the amount of pride these ladies have in our program and our history. It was great to see them back on top."

The 2017 AAC title marks the Milligan women's 15th straight national championship berth. In addition, Johnson City native Ferguson was named AAC Freshman of the Year.

"This is definitely a team that gets it done by committee," Layne said. “J.J. led us at Sand Shark and then Gartman bounced back to pick up the slack today — and that's exactly what you want from your seniors."

This marked the third straight meet this season in which Milligan came away victorious. The Lady Buffs previously won the Allen and Phyllis Morgan Invitational on Oct. 6 before winning the prestigious Sand Shark Invitational on Oct. 21.

On the men's side, five Buffs finished inside the top 25. Following Baker (26:11.02) was sophomore Sam Wehner at seventh overall with a time of 26:32.58. Wehner missed out on an individual bid to nationals by one spot but was named all-conference first team.

Alongside Ferguson, Baker was named AAC Freshman of the Year for the men. Baker also earned an automatic individual bid to nationals.

"Hats off to Reinhardt (champion) today. They ran really well and their 1-2 finish made it tough to combat," Layne said. "Unfortunately I had to pull Mitch (Bronstetter) out mid-race with a lower leg issue, which really hurt us as he had been a staple in our top three all year. If we're afforded an at-large bid, and I think we're deserving, then I also think we'll see Tim Thacker continue to take steps back toward the top in the next few weeks. He was just short on training/racing coming in and that showed today."

Junior Eric Shull finished 14th overall with a time of 27:11.69 securing his spot on the all-conference second team. Sophomore Seth Nicol (27:24.44) placed 17th and senior Sam Bratton (27:31.15) 18th.

"I'm proud of our effort," Layne said. "Guys like Shull, Nicol and Bratton really stepped up for us, but the way the results played out is a testimony to how strong the AAC has become, which we're also proud of."

This was Layne's 14th time in 15 seasons being named AAC Women's Coach of the Year. Layne has been named AAC Men's Coach of the Year four times.

Next on the schedule for Milligan is the NAIA Men's and Women's Cross Country National Championships, set for Saturday, Nov. 18 in Vancouver, Washington. The Lady Buffs have secured an automatic bid while the Milligan men will need to win an at-large bid to qualify as a team.

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