Bulls No. 1 in South

Following its second strong outing of the season, the USF women’s cross country team has taken the top spot in the NCAA South Region rankings.

The Bulls opened the season with a second-place finish at the Indiana Open Aug. 30 and then swiped first place at the Bulldog Stampede Saturday by 31 points. Led by sophomore Christa Benton, who finished first at the Bulldog Stampede and third at the Indiana Open, the Bulls placed four runners among the top 10 to finish with 45 points. It was the first career victory for Benton, who was Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year in 2001.

“At the beginning of the year, I thought (senior) Kristy Fuller would be first,” USF coach Greg Thiel said. “But for a sophomore, Christa has run outstanding. Christa and Kristy, they have the ability to go back and forth. And they’re only going to go up and up.”

Joining Benton in the top 10 were Fuller (sixth), freshman Jessica Hellender (eighth) and senior Cori Kill (ninth). The Bulls’ 45-point total easily bested second-place Georgia Tech (76) and third-place Tulsa (77).

Georgia Tech also trails USF in the South Region, as the Yellow Jackets are second there too. Rounding out the top five in the women’s South Region are Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

“It’s real good for the kids,” Thiel said of the Bulls’ rankings. “It shows how the opposing coaches feel about them, and it’s good for the kids to see their name in front.”

For the USF men’s team, fifth-year senior Andrew Smith put together consecutive banner performances. Smith defied the pack to win the Indiana Open with a time of 22:10.4, then posted a 25:33 5,000 meters to cinch second at the Bulldog Stampede. Ashland’s Nick Cordes ran 32 seconds faster than Smith to claim the victory. With his performance at the Indiana Open, Smith was named Conference USA’s Male Cross Country Athlete of the Week.

“(We’re counting on him) a lot,” Thiel said. “Coach Arndt has been holding him back. He’s been running real conservative early in races. We haven’t let him go just yet. It’s a long season, and his time will come.”

Greatly aided by Smith’s standing, the USF men’s cross country team snatched fifth place at the Bulldog Stampede. USF was 56 points behind the host Bulldogs, who claimed the team title by six points over Clemson. Sean Burris chimed in with a 14th-place finish, and Adam Chumbley crossed the line in 26:56, good for 24th.

“It was just a really good day on both sides for us,” Thiel said. “There were a lot of ACC and SEC schools (there), and to run well with them just makes for a good day.”