Set To Start

ORLANDO, Fla. ( – When the UCF cross country teams hits the course on Friday, the Knights will be ready to start off on a strong foot.

“I think optimistic is the right word to describe the team,” UCF assistant coach Bryan Jackson said. “A lot of them don’t know 100 percent what to expect. It’s been a lot of change from what they are used to, but I think they are optimistic in the outlook of the season and year as a whole.”

UCF opens its 2018 campaign at the FAU Cross Country Invitational.

With their first four meets taking place in the Sunshine State, Jackson wants the Knights to take advantage of the opportunity of close meets.

“Mostly this year it’s just to keep it simple and not over-travel,” said Jackson. “Right now, we are trying to find out our identity; who we are and how good we are. I think the meets we found here in Florida are good measuring sticks to find that out.”

The Knights are on track for a solid start in 2018. The Black and Gold return a group of experienced runners this fall, including Victoria Jung, Jessica Dolan, Beth Williams, Crystal Tejeda and Shiree Hinds.

“Right now, in practice, Tori and Jessica are looking strong,” Jackson said.

Jung ended last season with three top-35 finishes, including a fifth-place at the FL Runners Invitational. Dolan, who joined the Knights during the 2017 cross country campaign, turned in a personal-best 6K performance at the NCAA South Region Championship.

While the returnees will lead the way into the season, a strong freshman class could soon make its way to the front of the pack.

Charlotte Crook, Katie Pinnell and Shayla Sanders have made impressions on Jackson, and could be relied heavily upon this season.

“(The freshmen) have a lot adjust to, but they have looked really good as we have opened up the season,” said Jackson. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what they can bring to the table.”

For the first time since 2015, UCF will serve as a host for a cross country meet. The UCF Alumni Invite will take place on Sep. 15, and Jackson is excited for the opportunity. The chance to be able to race on the course they train on can be considered a huge advantage.

The 2018 FAU Invitational is slated for a 6 p.m. start at the Burt Aaronson South County Regional Park in Boca Raton.