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Clayton State cross country gears up for championships

From Staff Reports

After two weeks of preparation, the big moment of the 2010 season has arrived for the Clayton State Laker men's and women's cross country teams as they will compete this weekend in the NCAA Division II Southeast Region championships in Charlotte.

The races, which will be at McAlpine Creek Park and hosted Queens, will take place on Saturday morning with the men's 10K race starting at 10 a.m., followed the women's 6K race at 11:15 a.m. The top three men's teams and the top women's teams, in addition to the top two individuals not on advancing teams, qualify for the NCAA Division II National Championships on Saturday, Dec. 4, in Louisville, Ky., as a part of the Division II Fall Festival.

The Laker men are coming off a fifth-place finish last season at the Southeast Regionals, while the Clayton State women finished ninth overall.

"We are both looking to improve off last season's finishes, but we will be missing some key players off both teams," said Clayton State head coach Mike Mead.

The Clayton State men will be without the services of freshman Russell Lawless, while the Laker women will not have freshman sensation Samantha Walling in the lineup. Both runners are nursing injuries.

The Clayton State men are coming off a third-place finish at the Peach Belt Conference champonhips two weeks ago. Senior Fidelis Mutiso, junior Albert Mong'ony and freshman Charles Anderson will spearhead the Lakers. The trio earned All-Peach Belt Conference honors this season.

Mutiso, a three-time All-Peach Belt Conference selection, has recorded two victories this season at the Bridgestone-Pacer Invitational and the Foothills Invitational. His top 8K time this season is 25:07.5 at the Royal Cross Country Challenge, and he is aiming to advance to the national meet for a second straight season. Mong'ony has recorded three Top 10 finishes this season with a season-best 8K time of 26:22.03 at the Foothills Invitational

The Lakers will also look for key contributions from senior Jarrid Casimir and sophomore Ricky Fort.

"The men's team will have a tough fight regaining a fifth place finish this year because of the improved quality in the region," Mead said. "Fidelis will be greatly challenged in returning to the national meet despite running his best times this season. He has a great opportunity to better his team record (32:20) in the 10K and will be seeking his second All-Region honor."

Despite not having the services of Walling, Mead is optimistic that the Clayton State women can improve on the ninth-place finish from last season. The Lakers are coming off fourth-place finish at the Peach Belt Conference championships.

With Walling sidelined, Clayton State will look for a big race from junior Kourtney Aylor, who was an All-Peach Belt Conference selection for a second straight season after an 11th-place finish. Aylor has recorded two Top 10 finishes this season with a season-best 5K time of 19:34.6 at the Royal Cross Country Challenge. Also, senior Chelsea Ellis appears to be regaining her form after struggling earlier in the season, while sophomores Paige Galvin and Monique Belmudes should have solid races.

"The ladies team, despite the absence of Samantha, should be able to improve on their team finish from a year ago. We just have to run smart early and finish strong," Mead said. "Our Top 3 (Kourtney Aylor, Chelsea Ellis, Monique Belmudes) can be in the hunt for a Top 15 finish and All-Region honors."