By Carey Phillips

Smoky Mountain’s men’s and women’s cross country teams will open practice at 8:30 a.m. today (Thursday) at the Jackson County Recreation Center.

“I feel really good about the season,” Coach Pam Shuler said. “We have a lot of young runners. It’s nice and refreshing to have so many new ones. We lost a lot of seniors.”

Returnees for the Lady Mustangs include seniors Anna Morgan and Lucy McRae, junior Ashton Buchanan and sophomore Maia Wilde.

Morgan missed last year’s conference meet with an injury, but she was all-conference in 2017.

Heading the returnees for the Mustang men is senior Tyler Watterson. He was all-conference and all-region last year and qualified for the state meet.

Also back are sophomores Parker Smith, Clay Tate, Ben Saunooke, Sam Conlin and Brenden Millsaps.

Shuler will coach the women, and Mike Winchester has replaced Brandon Pendergast as men’s coach. Brittany Lester will be an assistant for both teams.

“I’m really excited about the dedication our new runners have put in over the summer,” Shuler said. “They’ve spent a lot of time coming out and doing voluntary workouts.”

The women placed fourth and the men were fifth in last year’s Mountain Six Conference Meet. The women were fifth at the Western Regionals and placed 13th at the State 2-A Meet.

The men did not reach the state meet, but Watterson qualified as an individual.

The first meet will be the WNC Cross Country Carnival on Aug. 24 at Hendersonville’s Jackson Park.

The only regular season home meet will be the Watermelon Run on Sept. 4 at the Rec Center.

The Rec Center will also be the site of the conference meet Oct. 23. It has been held at Western Carolina University in recent years but is moving to the Rec Center due to construction on the WCU campus.

The schedule is as follows:

Aug. 24 – WNC Cross Country Carnival at Hendersonville; 29 – at Rabun Gap, Georgia.

Sept. 4 – Watermelon Run at Jackson County Recreation Center; 7 – Bulldog Open at Murphy; 14 – Cherokee Invitational; 18 – White Squirrel Run at Brevard; 26 – Carney Classic at Hayesville.

Oct. 3 – Black Bear Bolt at Pisgah; 9 – at Robbinsville; 23 – Mountain Six Conference Meet at Jackson County Recreation Center.

Nov. 2 – Western 2-A Regionals at Montreat; 9 – State 2-A Meet at Kernersville.