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One senior will be available for the Barton College cross-country program beginning with Saturday’s season-opening race at the Chick-Fil-A Invitational in Salisbury. The other will be guided along more slowly with the intent of being at full strength when it counts in October at the NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas championships.But either way, Sharon Kiptoo and Joel Lagat present as the faces of their respective programs for the 2017 season. While Lagat will be managed tediously by second-year head coach David Nicholson in the early going, Kiptoo is a candidate to reach the NCAA Division II national championships as an individual qualifier.
“Sharon and Joel, as our frontrunners and senior leaders this year, they’re cornerstones for the program,” Nicholson said during an interview in his office Friday morning. “I was very fortunate to be able to have them my first year and to be able to work with them and have some marked improvements. They are not the entire team, but they mean a lot to us.”
Both programs were picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll of Conference Carolinas coaches, which essentially amounts to a projected fifth-place finish at the Oct. 20 championship meet at Frank J. Liske Park in Concord. The men’s squad had a fifth-place showing last season, while the Lady Bulldogs had a sixth-place showing among the league’s 10 teams at the conference championships.
The men’s team will have two other seniors in Tevin Aitken and Qasim Ray, both New York natives. Freshman Evan Lee, a product of Hunt High, arrives to provide local flavor. As for Lagat, he will be guided along meticulously as he recovers from a nagging foot injury. Two other freshmen join Lee in Greg Gibbs and Alex Kelly.
Kiptoo will be supplemented by a senior, a sophomore and two freshmen. Senior Judith Melly and sophomore Meghan Araldi and joined by two newcomers in Brooke Lonergan and Andrea Mills.
“I’m very excited,” Nicholson said. “I really believe that we have some special kids. They may be small in number, but great kids and they’re going to help move this program in the right direction.