MILLIGAN COLLEGE, Tenn. (Nov. 7, 2019) -- Much will be on the line in Canton, Georgia, Saturday morning when the nationally ranked Milligan College cross-country teams head to the Appalachian Athletic Conference Championships. The No. 6 women have won 14 of the last 16 conference titles while the No. 15 men have won two of the last four.
The field is loaded with some of the nation's top runners. With SCAD Atlanta ranking No. 1 in the NAIA, the women's side features two teams in the top six nationally and four teams receiving national attention. Milligan is the favorite on the men's side, leading a group of three AAC teams inside or near the top 25.
"As the direct qualifier to the national championships, the AAC championships have always been extremely important to our season," Head Coach Chris Layne says. "If we're going to take that next step, it's imperative we perform well. In some form or fashion, this has always been a competitive league, but in recent years the quality and depth of the championship has gone to another level so there are a ton of bragging rights on the line."
Milligan favored on men's side
Similar to the women's team, the men's team has three wins and one runner-up finish across four meets this season. The Buffs have already defeated two AAC programs head-to-head, including No. 20 Montreat their last time out. They enter the conference meet having stood at the top of the conference ratings since the preseason poll came out Aug. 27. The Buffaloes have a season win-loss record of 48-1.
"Montreat is a really good, nationally ranked team and they're gaining momentum; our guys are aware of this," Layne says. "I think we're dialed in and they understand there is a ton to be racing for this weekend."
Baker, Thacker look to lead Buffs
Nathan Baker and Tim Thacker have led the Buffs throughout this season as the undisputed No. 1 and No. 2. Baker, the 2018 indoor track & field national champion at 3000 meters, has a pair of wins this season, plus a ninth-place finish at the Queen City Invitational. Thacker, a two-time All-American and the national runner-up in the indoor mile, has been clipping at Baker's heels in every race, taking second twice and 17th at Queen City.
"Obviously we need Nathan and Tim to give us a really good effort up front this weekend," Layne says. "Alex Mortimer and Jake Crow have proven to be solid at 3-4, and then we've got to have a pack of guys really emerge for spots five through nine in an effort to keep our gaps down."
The men's field will look a lot like the women's: heavy with talent and national championship experience. After Baker and Thacker, several other Buffs who have performed well on a high stage are in the mix. Tyler Bates, a two-time All-American in the marathon, has run in the middle of Milligan' pack this season, and the Buffs have six returning from last year's AAC championship and five returning from the NAIA championship. Last season, the Buffs were without Baker and Thacker at each of the last two races.
The AAC Championships are set to take place at Boling Park in Canton, Georgia, with Reinhardt University as host. The men's race begins at 8:30 a.m. with the women's race to follow at 9:30 a.m. The awards presentation will follow on site at approximately 11 a.m.
The course, same as the one used for the 2018 AAC meet, is a combination of grass, crushed gravel and dirt paths. It consists of one 1 KM loop and two 2 KM loops for the women's race and four 2 KM loops for the men's race.
"Every coach should have a feel for what type of teams they have when the season starts, and honestly, I think both teams delivered at the level I expected to this point," Layne says. "But this weekend is a whole different story. We'll line up against national caliber programs on both sides with a lot on the line."