PREVIEW: NCAA South/Southeast Regional
PREVIEW: NCAA South/Southeast Regional
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
By Erik Holth

MARSHALL, Texas – Four runners from East Texas Baptist University will compete in this weekend’s NCAA Division III South/Southeast Regional meet in Newport News, Virginia.  The meet is scheduled to begin this Saturday, November 16th with the women’s meet at 11:00 a.m., and the men running at 12:30 p.m.

Landon Price and Ian Spencer will represent ETBU in the men’s meet, which is an 8K and Megan Merrill and Shelby Sparks will run in the women’s meet, which will be at the 6K distance.  Price finished fourth overall at the ASC Championship meet to qualify and Spencer finished 18th to become the first male runners to qualify for regionals since Timothy Spencer finished 139th and Casey Morris finished 146th in the 2011 regionals at Texas Lutheran.  Merrill finished 15th in the Conference meet to qualify for a spot in regionals and Sparks finished 22nd overall and become the first female runners since Chantel Jones finished 123rd and Emily Bach finished 134th in 2011 to run in the South/Southwest regionals.

“The season overall went better than anticipated,” said head coach Natalie Bach-Prather. “We had a lot of young talent that was able to develop throughout the season and were able to bring down our times in every race.  To be able to get a PR in every race is pretty exciting.”

Merrill was the top finisher this season in four of ETBU’s six meets, with a season high finish of 12th at the Northwestern St. Invitational in October.  Merrill began the season with a time of 14:01 at the UT-Tyler 2-Mile tri-meet, which featured the three east Texas schools (Texas-Tyler, LeTourneau and ETBU).  She followed up the tri-meet with a 32nd place finish, 2nd amongst runners from ETBU and a time of 23:39.45 at the first long distance meet of the season, also at UT-Tyler.  She finished 32nd again the following week in a rain soaked meet at Hardin-Simmons, with a time of 24:20.00.  Her 18th place finish at Centenary with a time of 27:42.5, began her string of four straight meets in which she was the top finisher for ETBU.  The next meet was the meet at Northwestern State where she placed 12th and finished with a 21:43.0, both of which were personal bests.  In the final meet of the regular season, she placed 42nd at Mississippi College with a time of 21:51.50.  In the conference championship meet, a 6K, Merrill placed 15th overall with a time of 26:56.81, personal bests for a 6K.

Sparks was the top finisher for ETBU in one of the six meets they ran, placing a season best 19th at Hardin-Simmons, 13 spots in front of Merrill and 6 spots ahead of teammate Shelby Taylor.  Sparks also participated in the 2-Mile tri-meet at UT-Tyler, finishing with a time of 14:16, third on the team.  In the first regular season meet, she finished 38th at the UT-Tyler Invitational, second for ETBU, with a time of 24:44.34.  It was the second meet of the regular season where Sparks crossed the line first for the Tigers, finishing with a time of 23:27.00.  In the meet at Centenary she placed 23rd with a time of 28:42.5, finishing second behind Merrill and beginning her streak of four straight second place finishes.  A finish of 15th at Northwestern State and a time of 22:35.9 established a personal best finish and time for her, but the personal best time would only last a week, as she came across the line 51st at Mississippi College with a new personal record time of 22:30.37.  Sparks would end the season in the ASC Championship meet with her 22nd place finish and a time of 27:35.87, good enough to join her teammate in regionals

When asked about how these results will benefit the program, Bach-Prather replied: “The program is growing and you can tell with the four who had better times that are able to qualify for regionals.  I expect them to do well.  It’s going to be much tougher competition at the regional meet, but I like them to be tested this young because I will still have them for another two or three years and develop them.  That way they can see the competition that’s out there and see where they need to be able to compete well at the national level.”

Price finished with one of the best season’s for a male runner in ETBU history.  Price finished no lower than 15th in any race and ended the season with four straight top-10’s. He placed 6th at the tri-meet before the season at UT-Tyler.  Then came the season low finish, where he registered a time of 17:03.48.  The rain soaked 4-mile meet at Hardin-Simmons began Price’s streak of top-10’s when he placed 8th with a time of 24:57.0.  Price gained the first top-5 finish of his career at Centenary College with a fifth place finish and a time of 28:05.4.  He had a season best finish of 4th with a time of 16:15.7 in the 3-mile meet at Northwestern State.  In the 8K meet at Mississippi College, the last meet of the regular season, Price finished 6th and broke the school’s record with a 27:11.42, beating William Ritter’s time of 27:42 in 2003.  In the conference meet, Price finished 4th again, and just missed breaking his own 8K record with a time of 27:22.78.

Spencer finished second in every meet this season for ETBU.  He finished a career best 14th twice, the first time at Hardin-Simmons and the second time at Northwestern State.  Spencer’s first meet of the season was the UT-Tyler Invitational where he placed 26th with a time of 18:31.00.  The next meet was the Hardin-Simmons Invitational where he finished with a time of 25:12.0 on a rain soaked track.  He finished 23rd in the meet at Centenary the following week with a time of 30:28.5.  Up next was Northwestern State, where he tied his career best finish and registered a time of 17:46.1.  He placed 39th at Mississippi College in the final regular season meet with a time of 29:31.91.  In the ASC championship meet he finished 22nd and set a personal best in the 8K with a time of 29:07.54.