September 5, 2008

Bobcat Cross Country Poised for Breakthrough 2008

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. - Returning two female All-Peach Belt Conference (PBC) honorees and one more on the men's side, the Georgia College & State University cross country teams are expecting quick finishes and low numbers in 2008 as they battle for conference supremacy. The Bobcats host this season's Pre-Conference Meet at the West Campus Cross Country Course, beginning tomorrow at 8:30 a.m.

The women's team is coming off its highest conference finish in 2007, taking third in the team race, led by Bonnie Ueltzen (Blairsville, Ga.) and Dani Destiche (Snellville, Ga.).

"We lost a lot of talent from the 2007 team," said head coach Joe Samprone, the PBC Men's Coach of the Year, of the five-member senior class. "Through this season's recruiting class however, we were thankfully able to replace not only good runners but also wonderful kids."

Rookie Sarah Balkcom (Fayetteville, Ga.), is no stranger to Bobcat cross country, as her sister Virginia Balkcom (Fayetteville, Ga.) is now a junior on the squad.

"Ginny was one of our top runners in her freshman season, and we expect her to return to that form after battling some injuries last year," Samprone said. "Sarah is an excellent runner we hope to have that same impact."

Freshman Karissa Ekstrom (Alpharetta, Ga.) was second at the first meet of the season in New Hampshire last week, and according to Samprone that was no fluke.

Alexa Maring (Lawrenceville, Ga.) and Erin Oshurst are both highly recruited runners that Samprone looks forward to see working into the mix over the next four years.

In another family dynamic, freshman Victoria Dobson (Cambridge, Ontario) is the sister of one of the best male runners in program history, now-student assistant coach Rich Dobson, a two-time All-PBC runner. Victoria Dobson is working into form, and Samprone expects good things as the year progresses.

Sarah Hakala (Jacksonville, Fla.) is the team's lone senior, providing much-needed experience and leadership. Joining Ueltzen in the junior class are Virginia Balkcom, Heather Raines (Loganville, Ga.) and Caroline Rentz (Columbus, Ga.). Each junior provided excellent times in 2007, and will continue to do so this season. Rentz in particular has much improved during the summer thanks to her hard work, getting into the starting lineup for last week's meet.

Destiche headlines a five-member sophomore class. The all-conference runner "had a great season last year, and is running even stronger this season" according to Samprone. Other sophomores pushing for the starting lineup are Alex Taylor (Marietta, Ga.)Andrea Sisson (Evans, Ga.)Jessica Forbes (Cumming, Ga.) and Margy Coleman (Alpharetta, Ga.).

All returning members have contributed in the past, and will work with the freshmen this season as no one is firmly set in the top five or six.

The men's squad went through some changes of their own, displacing six seniors, including the aforementioned Rich Dobson. Hoping to bridge that gap is an impressive recruiting class, consisting of five talented harriers.

The men's squad finished third at the 2007 PBC Championships as well, led in large part by Josh Hollar (Canton, Ga.). The now-junior was an All-PBC selection, placing eighth, and led Georgia College at four of the seven meets in 2007.

Seniors Derek Hossbach (Peachtree City, Ga.) and Alex Pate (Byron, Ga.) will provide leadership this season, even though Pate will have to do so from the sideline as an injury redshirt. Joining Hollar in the junior class is John Hubert (Savannah, Ga.), an excellent student and solid runner.

The sophomore class is now three-deep, as Tim Cary (Monroe, Ga.) and Erik Ottoson (Suwanee, Ga.) will battle for spots in the top six. Ottoson is a much-improved runner, according to Samprone, as last season he battled back from a summer injury. He had a full summer of solid training and is posed for a breakthrough season. Classmate Steven Jackson (Lilburn, Ga.) will also redshirt with injury.

The five-member freshman class will have an immediate impact, led by Colin Conroy (Dacula, Ga.) a state top-10 finisher in high school.

"He's an excellent runner that led us last week (in New Hampshire)," said Samprone. "He has high potential to be a team-carrying runner for us over the next four years."

Rob Manning (Lawrenceville, Ga.) is a "great kid and a good runner" who will help cover the gap left by the seniors.

"Our goal with recruiting was to replace the guys we lost last year," said Samprone. "Colin and Rob go a long way to help us do just that."

Both Travis Knight (Oxford, Ga.) and Daniel Horseman (Cohotta, G a.) were also "highly recruited" runners, and Samprone is "very happy with the work their doing in training".

"We need to get up to this freshman class's potential," said Samprone. "If we get that, combined with hard work from our veterans, we're in for a great season."

Catch the Bobcats on Georgia College's West Campus tomorrow, Sept. 6 at 8:30 a.m. in the Pre-Conference Meet.

Visit www.GCSU.edu/Athletics to nominate your favorite former Bobcats and Colonials to the GCSU Athletics Hall of Fame. The GCSU Department of Athletics sponsors 10 varsity athletic programs at the NCAA Division II level. As a Division II program, GCSU prides itself on balancing the life of the student-athlete, evidenced by the Bobcats' multiple appearances in post-season competition as well as documented academic success and community-service involvement.