With a rare early-season opportunity to get a close look at a fellow Sun Conference cross country competitor, USC Beaufort coach Larry Kimball and Savannah College of Art and Design coach Michael Sergi were eager to see how their teams measured up to one another.
"If we can run as good as them," Sergi said, "we're doing OK."
The Bees did better than that Saturday, beating USCB for the men's and women's team titles at the third annual Sand Shark Invitational.
It was hardly a surprise to see SCAD's women claim the title for the second consecutive year. The Bees are ranked second in the Sun Conference, and they showed why Saturday, as freshman Sarah Caskey and senior Tracy Koch finished first and second to lead five SCAD runners in the top eight. It was the second victory in as many collegiate races for Caskey, a freshman from Peterborough, England, who won the 5-kilometer race with a time of 18 minutes, 49 seconds. Caskey opened her college career with a win at the Gamecock Invitational two weeks ago.
"The first race I just felt so ill with nerves and everything," Caskey said. "I didn't feel as nervous today. I just felt very excited about it. ... This is one of the nicest courses I've ever ran on."
It's also known as one of the fastest cross country courses you'll find, but SCAD's Cesar Ignacio Fernandez Lazaro made it look even faster in setting a school-record with his winning time of 26:30 in the 8-kilometer men's race.
Fernandez Lazaro, or "Nacho," as his teammates call him, broke from the pack at the 3-mile mark and cruised to the finish, beating runner-up Josh Fitts by 59 seconds.
"The other guy was running very fast, but I decided to go a little faster," Fernandez Lazaro said. "I felt very good, and I continued my speed."
Fernandez Lazaro got enough help from his teammates to edge the defending champion Sand Sharks by five points for the team title, a minor upset considering USCB was ranked second, one spot ahead of SCAD, in the Sun Conference rankings. Both teams had four runners finish in the top 10, but USCB was hurt by an injury to Nic Tones, who had to drop out of the race when patellar tendinitis in his left knee flared up during the second mile.
Marshall Meyer led USCB's men with a third-place finish, and Frank Tinsley was fourth. Fitts, a USCB student who plans to join the team as a redshirt freshman next season, finished second as an unattached runner.
"We talked about it, and I told them we still have eight weeks left," Kimball said. "I'm happy for SCAD, because Michael's kids ran well, and they deserved to win. ... Our kids know now that people aren't just going to lay over and let us walk through them. Our training has been going well, but we're just going to have to continue for the next six weeks."
Kimball was much more pleased with his women's team, particularly the top of the lineup. Katie Mock and Selena Hutson both obliterated their personal-best times en route to third- and fifth-place finishes, and freshman Amy Williams finished seventh.
Both USCB teams are back in action next Saturday at The Citadel Invitational.
COLLEGE WOMEN (5K)
Team scores: Savannah College of Art and Design 21, USC Beaufort 38, U.S. Marine Corps 72.
Top individuals: 1. Sarah Caskey, SCAD, 18:49; 2. Tracy Koch, SCAD, 18:55; 3. Katie Mock, USCB, 20:14; 4. Cara Maratin, SCAD, 20:32; 5. Selena Hutson, USCB, 20:40.
Other USCB results: 7. Amy Williams 21:39; 10. Kristy Grannan 23:11; 14. Caitlin Brady 23:55; 15. Jessica Brown 24:00; 24. Samantha Wilcutt 28:29; 25. Gabby Lamb 28:56; 26. Rachel Ford 29:45; 27. Erin Grider 30:49.
COLLEGE MEN (8K)
Team scores: Savannah College of Art and Design 28, USC Beaufort 33, Savannah State 69, U.S. Marine Corps 102, Armstrong Atlantic 137.
Top individuals: 1. Cesar Ignacio Fernandez Lazaro, SCAD, 26:30; 2. Josh Fitts, Unattached, 27:29; 3. Marshall Meyer, USCB, 27:38; 4. Frank Tinsley, USCB, 27:43; 5. Ben Harrison, SCAD, 27:50.
Other USCB results: 7. Tommy Reeves 28:09; 10. John Critchlow 28:45; 14. Stephen Wilson 29:43; 23. John Stanas 33:35; 25. Ian Evans 34:12; 27. Evan Szankowski 34:25.
OPEN RACE (5K)
Men: Under 19 -- Clark Sinclair 19:08; 20-39 -- John Dialesandro 16:44; 40-55 -- Samuel Gross 29:26; 56 and up -- Bill Escher.
Women: Under 19 -- Vannica Williams 21:05; 20-39 -- Melanie Williams 22:58; 40-55 -- Kim Abbott 29:48.