Both the Milligan College women’s and men’s cross country programs earned a top 20 national ranking according to the NAIA preseason coaches’ poll.
The Milligan women recorded their highest national ranking since 2007 at No. 3, while the Milligan men landed a spot at No. 18.
“On paper, we probably have two of our deepest, most talented teams to date,” head coach Chris Layne said, “but it will come down to how they come together and being healthy in November.”
WOMEN LOOK STRONGER THAN LAST YEAR’S NO. 7 NATIONAL FINISH
Last season, seniors Sarah Kate Gartman and JJ Robinson earned All-American status and led Milligan to a seventh place finish at the NAIA Women’s Cross Country National Championship. Despite Gartman and Robinson leaving to graduation, the team looks to be even stronger as the Buffs return a handful of other stars while welcoming in a solid recruiting class.
Among the returners, Amy Ferguson was last year’s Appalachian Athletic Conference freshman of the year, and Katlyn Haas and Erica Stone were All-AAC first team. Jacquelyn Crow, a graduate transfer from Furman University, highlights the list of newcomers.
WOMEN’S NAIA TOP 25
The No. 3 ranking is the highest for Milligan since ranking No. 2 for nearly the entire 2007 season. At No. 3, the Buffs received 512 voting points compared to preseason No. 1 Wayland Baptist’s 560 points. Milligan ranks atop the AAC, ahead of No. 6 SCAD Atlanta.
Last season, the Buffs won the AAC for the 14th time in the last 15 years and were No. 7 in the NAIA postseason coaches’ poll.
RETURNER BAKER, NEWCOMER MORTIMER HIGHLIGHT MEN AT NO. 18
On the men’s side, Nathan Baker qualified as an individual for the NAIA Men’s Cross Country National Championship where he finished 34th nationally. Baker, Ferguson’s counterpart as the men’s AAC freshman of the year in 2017, is one among a solid core of returners, and the men’s team also has an NCAA Division I transfer in Alex Mortimer (University of Kentucky) to bolster their recruiting class.
Mortimer, who ran a personal best 24:54 8K at the SEC Cross Country Championships, should fit in nicely with Baker, Tim Thacker and Mitch Bronstetter who highlight the returning group.
MEN’S NAIA TOP 25
Similar to the women, Milligan’s men rank atop the AAC and are followed closely by two others. Reinhardt received a preseason national ranking at No. 23 and Montreat is the top team receiving votes.
“What stands out to me is how competitive our conference meet is going to be with three men’s programs in the top 26 and two women’s teams in the top six,” Layne said.