Area colleges: Lipscomb cross country looks to move up, if not move on

Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 8:47pm

Lipscomb never has qualified a team for the NCAA Division I national cross country championships — on the men’s or women’s sides. 
Bisons coach Bill Taylor doesn’t think that will change this year.

It’s not that Taylor doesn’t have confidence in his squads. The women’s team recently captured its first Atlantic Sun Conference championship. The men finished fourth — their highest A-Sun finish.

Both, however, will see stiffer competition this weekend when they head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the NCAA South Regional on Saturday. 
That is most evident on the women’s side as top-ranked Florida State and No. 4 Vanderbilt are both in the South Region. Only the top two teams in each regional automatically qualify for the national meet.

“If you look at it on paper, we’re not in the neighborhood of Florida State or Vanderbilt yet,” Taylor said. “They keep getting better, we keep getting better but there is still a pretty good gap there. Never say never but that is not really what we are looking for this year. We’re just looking to make progress on our finish last year and continue to be better and get more experience.”

Both Lipscomb programs achieved school bests at last year's regional race — the women placed ninth and the men 13th.

Taylor, the A-Sun women’s coach of the year, said the women hope to finish in the top eight and the men want to crack the top 10 this time. The women, who are ranked sixth in the South Region by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), put together arguably their best season. They placed second or higher at four meets — three at Percy Warner Park — and also won the Chattanooga Powerade Invite in September.

They did most of this without one of their top runners, sophomore Dani Walker. During the last 800 meters of the race at Chattanooga, she broke her foot. She finished the race, placing second.

Her absence forced sophomore Tessa Hoefle into a leadership role and the young team stuck together, running in tight packs. That’s how they claimed the A-Sun title at Percy Warner Park two weekends ago. Hoefle and senior Ashley Lehman finished fifth and sixth, respectively, becoming the first Lipscomb runners to earn All-Conference first-team honors. Freshman Minna Fields took ninth and three other Lipscomb runners finished in the top 20. Lipscomb scored 53 points, 16 better than defending champ North Florida.

“The girls were very committed to each other and that became more and more apparent during the last four weeks leading up to conference,” Taylor said. “They worked together. They did things they hadn’t done before in practices. Practice translates into competition usually. If you are willing to pay the price in practice, you are going to be able to pay the price in competition.

“The whole group of women just decided that [winning conference] was what they wanted. They were going to commit to it fully and go after it 100 percent. It was pretty amazing.”

• Fisk volleyball: Fisk will be hosting the Gulf Coast Atlantic Conference volleyball tournament this weekend.

Eight teams will play in the double-elimination tournament, which starts at 10 a.m. Thursday and runs through Saturday. Admission is $10 a day but with a student ID the cost is just $3.

Fisk is 7-31 and sixth in the GCAC in just its second year of its rebuilt program. It used to compete in NCAA Division III but dissolved many of its athletic programs due to financial woes and joined the NAIA in 2009. The Bulldogs were 0-16 last year.

“It is a really big deal and honor to be able to host the conference tournament with a two-year program,” Fisk coach Sarah Grahams said. “It is real exciting. We’ve made major headway this year.”

• Belmont on the air: Seven of Belmont’s men’s basketball regular-season games and all postseason contests will be aired on WGFX-FM 104.5 The Zone.

This is the ninth year of the relationship between the parties, which began in 2003 when the station switched to a sports talk format.

The Zone will carry Belmont’s games against Towson (Nov. 19), Austin Peay (Dec. 21), Lipscomb (Jan. 6 and Feb. 3), Jacksonville (Jan. 28), East Tennessee State (Feb. 18) and Mercer (Feb. 25).

Local sports personality Kevin Ingram will deliver the play-by-play for all Bruins Sports Network broadcasts, which can be heard at belmontbruins.com. The Bruins begin their season on Friday at No. 6 Duke, which can be heard on the Bruins Sports Network or seen on ESPNU/ESPN3.com.

Greene promoted: Vanderbilt named Derek Greene its women’s soccer coach after he served as the team’s interim head coach since July.

Greene has more than 16 years of collegiate coaching experience and has spent the last two seasons at Vanderbilt. He took over the program just weeks before its season opener when Ronnie Woodard resigned. The Commodores went 8-11 this season, facing 10 opponents who reached the NCAA Tournament.