Furman University hosted the Gene Mullin Cross Country Invitational Saturday on the lush grounds of the campus’s golf course. On a beautiful fall morning, the melodious sounds of Celtic-inspired bagpipes could be heard playing near the 5K course’s start line along with the distinctive voice of Adrian Craven (one of the early founders of the Greenville Track Club) calling the meet. It was the 41st running of the race, making it one of the oldest continuously held running events in the entire Southeast region.
The meet honors long time Furman track and cross country coach, Gene Mullin. Mullin spent 27 years at the university’s coaching helm and played a vital role in growing Furman’s running program. He helped establish women’s cross country and track and field teams at Furman. Under Mullin, Furman also hosted two NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships.
In the day’s first of seven races, the Blue Shoes Open 5K, Spartanburg’s Ashley Liew took first place honors in 16:56.31. Rita Gary, coach of the Furman Lady Paladins’ track and cross country programs, was the first female to cross the finish line in a 19:31.65 clocking.
Rita and her husband, Robert (a two-time Olympian in the 3000 meter steeplechase), have helped add to Furman’s rich history in distance running since their arrival at the university as coaches in April 2012. Robert Gary was hoping to attract close to 2,000 runners to the invitational meet. 1,180 junior, high school and open runners finished the looped course on the day.
The meet typically sees a big turnout among Furman alumni members and general spectators. Former Furman standout, Phil Barker (school and Southern Conference record holder in the 800 meters set back in 1977) ran in the open event as did Ed Boehmke, race director of the Greenville News Downtown Run 5K. Greenville’s Pace Running Magazine was also present, capturing some sensational photos of the event.
In the much anticipated high school boy’s heat, state champion James Quattlebaum (Christ Church, Senior) outran a very competitive field that saw 49 runners going under 17 minutes, with 8 athletes eclipsing the 16-minute barrier. Quattlebaum’s time of 15:28.19 was 20 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. Eastside’s Grant Wilson finished 5th in 15:50.91
On the girl’s side, Mary Prouty of Myers Park in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District, blazed to victory in 18:23.15. The top Greenville area runner in the race was Sophomore Sara Masaschi of St. Joseph in Class A who finished 7th overall in 19:09.49. Masaschi’s teammate, Annika Bissinger, placed 9th, respectively, with a time of 19:12.65.
Other top local finishers in Saturday’s 41st Annual Gene Mullin Cross County Invitational:
- Ryan Smith (Mauldin)- 12th place (16:11.39)
- Sam DiBridge(Travelers Rest)- 17th place (16:22.74)
- Daniel Wade (Eastside)- 19th place (16:23.79)
- Alex Lucking (Eastside)- 20th place (16:26.82)
- Emma DeRoberts (Woodmont)- 18th place (19:36.81)
- Madison Ellis (Eastside)- 23rd place (19:44.27)
- Carol Lewis (St. Joseph’s)- 32nd place (20:01.79)
- Heather Elliott (Eastside)- 33rd place (20:02.05)
Complete results and full event coverage can be seen by clicking here.
Proceeds from Saturday’s cross country meet were to go to the university’s cross country teams and the Furman Elite program. Furman Elite, which formed in 2012, has quickly grown into one of the country’s top echelon clubs in professional running. With several athletes who competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials and a national champion this past year in Nicole Bush (3000 meter steeplechase), the team has strong aspirations of sending runners to the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Bush and fellow Furman Elite teammate, Cory Leslie, currently serve as assistant coaches for the cross country teams. Leslie finished 2013 as the top ranked American in the 3000 meter steeplechase (8:20.08). He also established personal records this past year in the 1500 meters (3:34.93), One Mile (3:55.85) and 5000 meters (13:43.73), respectively.