USC Beaufort

Sand Shark Invitational cross country meet coming Saturday to Hardeeville

More than 600 runners from 40 teams throughout the Southeast will descend Saturday upon the USC Beaufort cross country team's home course in Hardeeville for the ninth annual Asics Sand Shark Invitational presented by Mortgage Network.

The field should rival last year's event, in which 650 runners - 347 women and 303 men - completed the race, making it the largest sporting event ever hosted by USCB.

The huge number of entries makes the start of each race critical, as the top runners try to put themselves in good position coming out of the box before the first right turn about 350 meters from the start. The 8K men's race begins at 9 a.m. with the 5K women's race to follow at 9:45.

USCB's course, which starts and finishes on the Hardeeville school campus on Red Dam Road and loops around a large pond on the adjacent Cooler property, is a spectator-friendly track. The women's course makes two loops and the men's course makes three loops, meaning fans can catch a glimpse of the runners several times without doing much running themselves, and a race announcer at the start/finish area will relay radio updates from each mile marker.

The course is fast and flat and the forecast calls for good running weather -- temperatures in the mid-60s and clear skies at race time. The course records of 24:05 by Embry-Riddle's Evans Kirwa in the men's race and 17:18 by Embry-Riddle's Ellie Staker in the women's race, both set in 2012, could be in play.

The race figures to be an important one for a number of teams trying to improve their chances of earning at-large berths in the NAIA National Championships next month in Charlotte, N.C.

The favorite in the men's race is No. 8 Dalton (Ga.) State, with No. 24 SCAD Savannah and Shawnee State (Ohio) the top contenders to chase down the Roadrunners. The women's race should be an exciting one with No. 11 Shawnee State heading the field and No. 20 Milligan (Tenn.), No. 24 Tennessee Wesleyan, and Southeastern (Fla.) among the top challengers.