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Eagle runners gain valuable experience in opening meet

MSU Athletics

Morehead State cross country welcomed back a potential new women's team leader after nearly two years on the sidelines, and both teams gained widespread experience Saturday morning in the opening meet of the 2018 season, the 37th annual Queen City Invitational hosted by Northern Kentucky.

For the Eagle men, six of the team's top seven returnees did not compete as head coach Stephen Picucci made the choice to let some of his lesser experienced runners take the spotlight today. The men's team placed 10th among the Division I teams competing, posting three personal bests in a lineup that featured two seniors, five sophomores and one freshman.

The MSU women placed seventh among 10 teams, led by redshirt sophomore Sierra Poppell, whose 13th place individual finish signaled her return to action for the first time since early in the 2016 season. The Eagle women also posted three personal-best times as 11 runners had the chance to stretch their legs on the 5K layout.

It was the first cross country meet held on the NKU campus Highland Heights course since 1979. The Valhalla Course, which offered a 5K challenge to both the men's and women's races, featured tight turns, hilly terrain and some unsure footing - making PR times tougher to achieve.

Using the meet as a measuring stick for his runners, Piccuci found some depth for his men's squad as the usual suspects from last year's team were absent at this event. Senior Jackson Cooper, who has run in two meets in each of the past three years, paced Morehead State by placing 49th individually in a personal-best 5K time of 16:25.2. He finished just more than one second ahead of sophomore Cody Chism's PR time of 16:26.6 for 55th place.

The third career showing came from redshirt senior Grayson Brookshire, the most experienced Eagle runner in Saturday's lineup. Running in his 14th career race for MSU, he placed 80th in the time of 16:40.1.

The remainder of the Eagle lineup included four sophomores and one freshman, led by Josh Grogan and Darby Pillow. They were followed across the finish line by Mikah Bailey, Cole Ralenkotter and newcomer Cole Clever.

Dayton won the men's division, followed by Kentucky and Xavier. Host NKU placed fifth, and fellow OVC member Eastern Kentucky finished seventh.

Ohio State was the top team in the women's division, while EKU placed second and Xavier was third. The Morehead women topped Cincinnati, NKU and Marshall.

Poppell covered the hilly 5K course in 18:23.8 for her 13th place showing, a personal best for the runner from Mt. Washington, Ky., whose last outing came on Oct. 1, 2016.

Junior Shelby Watkins was second through the tape for the Eagles, placing 36th in a career-best time of 19:10.1. Juniors Allison Chinn (19:20.4) and Caitlin Cunningham (19:21.3) finished in the top 50, while senior Gloria Corona-Luna (19:31.6) was 54th.

The other PR came from sophomore Olivia Chapman, whose time of 19:34.1 placed her 56th individually among the 149 runners in the field. Among the 11 MSU runners on the course, freshmen Carrie Staviski, Elizabeth Shannon and Reese Helton made their Eagle debuts.

The teams take next weekend off from competition, then return on Saturday, Sept. 15, to race at the Winthrop Invitational in Rock Hill, S.C.

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