2018 Conference Carolinas Women's Cross Country Preview and Runners to Watch

 – The 2018 Conference Carolinas Women's Cross Country preseason poll has been released. Conference power University of Mount Olive will enter the season as the favorite to win the Conference Carolinas Women's Cross Country Championship, according to Conference Carolinas coaches.


1. University of Mount Olive: The Trojans collected 10 first-place votes and a total of 100 points to earn the top spot in 2018 by Conference coaches.

Mount Olive will be looking for its fourth straight Conference Carolinas Women's Cross Country Championship in 2018. UMO posted its first trip to the NCAA Division II National Championships in 2017 after finishing third at the NCAA Southeast Regional.

The Trojans finished 28th at nationals, but are geared up for 2018 and a chance at another conference title. The four-peat looks real likely with six all-conference runners back in Shona Blades, Jessica Glenn, Leah Hanle, Meredith Lorient, Celine Ritter and Elise Tanner.

Hanle racked up a number of awards in 2017, which included earning All-America honors at nationals, winning the NCAA Division II Southeast Region individual title, and the Conference Carolinas Runner of the Year awards. Ritter also had a stellar 2017, winning the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year a season after Hanle did the same.

Runners to Watch:

  • *Leah Hanle (Jr.)
  • Amber Owens (Fr.)
  • *Celine Ritter (So.)


2. Belmont Abbey College: The Crusaders rank second in the poll with 82 points from coaches.

The Abbey finished second in last year's Cross Country Championship and return three All-Conference Carolinas runners in Annie Hetzel, Julia Otranto and Hannah Zenker for the 2018 season. With the caliber of runners back, the Crusaders have a solid chance at derailing Mount Olive's chance at a four-peat.

Runners to Watch:

  • *Annie Hetzel (Jr.)
  • *Julia Otranto (Sr.)
  • *Hannah Zenker (Jr.)


3. Southern Wesleyan University: The Warriors placed third in the preseason poll after collecting 77 points.

Southern Wesleyan narrowly finished third at last year's championship, as Belmont Abbey beat them by one point. So, the Warriors have a good shot at overtaking the No. 2 spot in this year's race and challenging the Trojans for first place.

Runners to Watch:

  • Hanan Balawi (Jr.)
  • Kyra Hood (So.)
  • Haley Singletary (Sr.)


4.  North Greenville University: The Crusaders are preseason ranked fourth after racking up 70 points.

The Crusaders finished fourth in 2017 and will try to make a push for a top-three finish in 2018.

Runners to Watch:

  • Kaleigh Roach (Jr.)
  • Hope Whisman (Jr.)


5.  King University: The Tornado received 62 points from Conference coaches to check-in at fifth in the 2018 poll.

Hannah Kusmierz, a 2017 all-conference pick, led King to a fifth-place finish last year. Kusmierz will be the leader in 2018 and tasked with getting the Tornado back to the top of the Conference Carolinas podium.

Runners to Watch:

  • Kirstin Barton (Jr.)
  • Meg Davis (Fr.)
  • *Hannah Kusmierz (Jr.)


6. Limestone College: The Saints tallied 59 points and are in sixth-place to open the year. 

Limestone placed sixth in the 2017 championship and returns all-conference runner Sarah Rutto to lead the team.

Runners to Watch:

  • *Sarah Rutto (Sr.)


7. Converse College: The Valkyries were tabbed seventh after collecting 43 points from Conference coaches.

Converse is coming off a seventh-place finish in the 2017 Conference Carolinas Championship.

Runners to Watch:

  • Jamie Connelly (So.)
  • Jordan Onufer (Fr.)
  • Aubrey Vansant (Fr.)


t8. Emmanuel College: The Lions, who are making their Conference Carolinas preseason poll debut, received 38 points and one first-place vote to enter the season tied for eighth.

Runners to Watch:

  • N/A


t8. Barton College: The Bulldogs garnered 38 points from Conference coaches to enter the season tied for eighth.

Barton finished eighth in last season's championship race. 

Runners to Watch:

  • Meghan Araldi (Jr.)


10.  Lees-McRae College: The Bobcats are tabbed 10th in the poll after earning 21 points from coaches. 

Lees-McRae posted a ninth-place finish at the 2017 Conference Carolinas Cross Country Championship.

Runners to Watch:

  • Sarah Bowman (Jr.)
  • Jordyn Halvorsen (Sr.)
  • Tahlia Schreiber (Fr.)


11. Erskine College: The Fleet closes out the poll in 11th after earning 15 points from coaches.

Erskine placed 10th in last year's championship race.

Runners to Watch:

  • N/A

*denotes 2017 All-Conference Carolinas selection


2018 Women's Cross Country Preseason Poll

School (first-place votes) Total
1. Mount Olive (1) 100 
2. Belmont Abbey 82 
3. Southern Wesleyan 77 
4. North Greenville 70 
5. King 62 
6. Limestone 59 
7. Converse 43
t8. Emmanuel (1) 38 
t8. Barton 38 
10. Lees-McRae 21 
11. Erskine 15


Conference Carolinas is a NCAA Division II athletics conference made up of 11 teams from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. These institutions consist of: Barton College, Belmont Abbey College, Converse College, Emmanuel College, Erskine College, King University, Lees-McRae College, Limestone College, University of Mount Olive, North Greenville University, and Southern Wesleyan University.