HARTSVILLE, S.C. – The Coker cross country teams head into 2014 expecting a breakout second season in the South Atlantic Conference. The team will be under the guidance of first-year head coach Benny Morgan, who comes to Coker after serving as an assistant coach at Duke University.
"I am pleased with the way the runners have accepted me," said Morgan. "It's never easy running for a new coach, but the players have bought into my coaching style immediately."
Morgan's system will have to be applied quickly as the men were tabbed No. 10 in the SAC preseason poll, while the women were picked No. 11. Mars Hill and Wingate were picked as the favorites to capture the men's and women's SAC titles, respectively.
"I have a lot of respect for the coaches from Mars Hill and Wingate," said Morgan. "Both teams are tough, but I believe we can compete with any and everyone in the SAC."
Morgan has a reason to be confident in his teams with seven experienced returners leading the way for the Navy and Yellow. Seniors Dylan Bates and Nick Mascardo, and sophomore Tre' Williams highlight the men's side, while senior Kirsten Sanders, juniors Naomi Watson and Vanessa Pina, and sophomore Makeda Eley O'Reilly round out the women returners.
"Dylan has been around the block and brings a great deal of leadership and experience to the table," said Morgan. "Nick had to sit out last year, but is a very capable runner. Naomi, Kirsten, Vanessa and Makeda have each shown growth since the start of practice. I expect them to be very competitive when we start up for real."
In addition to the returners, Morgan has added nine fresh faces to the mix in 2014, with six competing for the men and three for the women. Morgan is expecting big things from sophomore transfer James Gregory, and freshmen Kenyan duo Jacob Chebii and Peter Kemboi.
"James is a great pickup for our program," said Morgan. "I expect him to be one of our top runners and lead by example in practice. Jacob and Peter are both very good runners that bring a international flavor to our program."
"Shauntel and Mercy will be those two that come in and really push the other runners," said Morgan. "They know what it takes to be winners and strive for improvement day after day."
Morgan has laid the groundwork to field a winning team, but he knows the most important part to the two teams' success will be staying healthy.
"We have two very good teams that can win this year," said Morgan. "However, I know that we must stay healthy and our training will be tailored to do just that. We are thinking long-term this season, which means hitting our stride at the right time and not letting up once we hit it."
Coker's first test will come Friday, Sept. 5 as both teams travel to Spartanburg, S.C. for the Eye Opener Invitational.