Smith succeeds where Bulls come up short

The University of South Florida’s cross country teams’ quest for a conference title came up short this year, as the women placed second, and the men finished sixth at the Conference USA meet Saturday.

However, one C-USA title did come home with the Bulls.

Andrew Smith won the men’s individual race, finishing the 8k course in 24 minutes, 36.71 seconds and winning the first individual conference title in school history.

USF coach Greg Thiel said Smith’s title in the conference race is just the exclamation point on his great season.

“Andrew did everything right,” Thiel said. “There were a couple of really good runners in the race, but he took command with about 1,000 meters to go.

“I saw toward the end that he was going to win. I think he wanted it more than anyone else.”

The men’s team didn’t fare as well as Smith, but it did make a significant improvement from last year’s 11th-place finish. The men placed sixth this year, 112 points behind winner Charlotte. Marquette placed second, followed by Cincinnati, DePaul and Houston.

“That’s a pretty big jump,” Thiel said. “I told (assistant) Rita (Arndt) if she did that again next year, numerically, we would finish first.”

Junior Adam Chumbley was the next Bull to cross the line, placing eighth in 25:20.18. Freshman Sean Burris placed 26th (26:09.58), and fellow freshman Derek Lincoln finished 57th (27:35.49).

“The men have faced a lot of adversity this year, and they’ve just been a great group,” Thiel said. “They’ve been so team-oriented and so competitive despite everything this year.”

The women’s team had the best chance to bring home the conference title, but it couldn’t knock off Marquette, which has won consecutive titles.

“We had to be on our A game, and they had to be on their A-/B game, and they weren’t,” Thiel said.

The women finished runners-up for the second consecutive year, 19 points behind Marquette. DePaul placed third, followed by Houston and TCU.

Sophomore Christa Benton once again led the women, finishing third in 21:07.99 in the 6k course.

The Bulls placed four other runners in the top 15: Senior Kristy Fuller, eighth (21:49.89); freshman Jessica Hellender, ninth (21:57.94); sophomore Bente General, 13th (22:12.66); and senior Cori Kill, 15th (22:14.91).

“Our girls ran a great race,” Thiel said. “We needed some help from the other schools, and we didn’t get it.

“If you look at the top 15, all but two or three spots were Marquette or South Florida. So, it essentially became a dual meet, and they’re really tough to beat in a dual meet. My hat goes off to the Marquette coach. He’s a great coach, and they’re a great team.”

The Bulls travel to Knoxville, Tenn. for the NCAA South Regional on Nov. 16. All teams automatically earn a berth in the regional race, regardless of their finish in the conference tournament.

The top two teams and the top four runners in the regional race advance to the NCAA Championship in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 25.