Cross Country Hosts UCF Black & Gold Challenge to Open 2010 Season

Sept. 9, 2010

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By Pat Salvas

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The 2010 UCF cross country team will have a much different look than the one that took to the course a year ago. Six freshmen will join seven returners from last season to make up this year's squad. Cross country coach Paul Brown will join with track & field head coach Caryl Smith-Gilbert to the lead the Knights in seven regular-season meets and the Conference USA Championships to be held at Tulsa on Nov. 1.

UCF will begin the season this Friday with the annual Black & Gold Challenge on the on-campus course at 6 p.m. The dual-meet format will feature the Knights competing against the Tars of Rollins College on the women's side. Rollins will also field a men's team that will compete against Flagler in the second race of the day, scheduled for a 6:45 p.m. start time. The women's race will be on the 5K course, while the men's course is 8K.

"This is the most excited I have been to host a meet," Smith-Gilbert said. "The team is working extremely hard as a team and training together. We are looking to start off on a good note and continue to improve as the season develops."

The UCF Cross Country Complex is a mixture of several terrains over the course of the race. Runners will face natural dirt trails with a mixture of sand and other soils, while different grass lengths will also line the course.

Coach Brown will have freshmen Ne'Ausha Logan, Danielle Scaffidi, Sierra Solaun, Erica Winston and Katya Groff make up the core of young runners competing in their first season with the Black and Gold. Brown hopes that these seven will benefit from running their first collegiate races on a familiar course.

"I think it's great for us to open at home," Brown said of Friday's Black & Gold Challenge. "We have a lot of young athletes who haven't competed at UCF for cross country yet and I think that it's going to be more comforting for them to give a better competitive effort at home."

The Knights are looking to build on a ninth-place finish at the 2009 C-USA Championships that saw the team score 222 points. Seniors Ocean Cohen and Carley Dart will be the top returning runners from the conference championships for UCF. Cohen crossed the line 47th overall in a time of 20:19.4, while Dart was 52nd with a time of 20:19.4.

Dan'Elle Bellamy is the other member of the senior class, while the Knights' lone junior is Aisha-Maree Frazier. They will be joined by sophomores Alyssa Franks, Mason Garberg and Eva Pierce to round out the second-year UCF runners.

"We have some young athletes who have been doing great at our practices and I hope that I get a barometer as to where they stand," Brown said. "My goal is that we get as close as possible to their personal bests and that will translate well to the rest of the season."

Two of the Knight's first three meets of the season will come at home with the program hosting the UCF Invitational on Friday, Sept. 24. This allows the Black and Gold to establish a rhythm early that will translate to success as the season progresses into the late fall.

"This team has been training hard and we are looking to continue that through this meet," Brown added. "We want to come out and get a good start, but it is important that we don't peak until championship season."

In the 2009 Black & Gold Challenge, the Knights put on a dominating performance as they claimed eight of the top 10 spots for 17 team points. Nova Southeastern (70 points), Flagler (74), Warner (98) and Rollins (122) rounded out the competition with Rollins the only returning team from a year ago.

Cohen will look to better her performance from last season's meet in which she finished second to teammate Jamie Rzepecki. Cohen's time of 19:22 was 12 seconds faster than third-place finisher senior Erica Weitz and nearly a minute ahead of any runner from an opposing team.

Dart also posted a top-10 finish at the 2009 race, crossing the line in 21:03, good for ninth place. UCF's average time of finish for scoring runners was more than two and a half minutes better than second place Nova Southeastern.

Following the Black & Gold Challenge, the team will head to the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville next Friday before returning home for the final time this season on Sept. 24. The Knights will then run in four meets in Florida in preparation for the C-USA Championships at Tulsa. The NCAA South Regional will be on Nov. 13 in Birmingham, Ala., while the national championship meet will remain in its familiar home of Terre Haute, Ind.