The Stetson men's and women's cross country teams will get the 2014 season off-and-running Saturday morning as they host the Hatter Invitational at River City Nature Park in DeBary, Fla.
Nearly 100 runners from six different universities will compete in the event. The men's 8K race will start at 7:30 a.m. and will feature Bethune-Cookman, Florida Gulf Coast, Lipscomb, North Florida, Webber International, and Stetson.
The women's 5K race will start at 8:05 a.m. and will feature the same teams except for Lipscomb.
Both the Hatter men and women are excited to begin a busy season that features eight competitions over an 11-week span.
"I think everyone is ready to start racing," Stetson head coach Joe Matuszczak said. "We had our team time trial last Saturday, and believe-it-or-not we are already ahead of where we were last year. That's good because although we don't have all the same pieces that we had last year, and although we are not quite as deep as we were last year, we are going to continue to improve with the student-athletes that we have."
Matuszczak says some of the runners may be able to keep pace with the lead group more so this year than in years past.
"For example, (Clarissa Consol) is not getting to wear a watch. She is going to be running with the lead pack and we are going to see what happens. So there is a chance, individually, we could be top five, or we could be first place. We don't really know."
Saturday's event will allow Stetson and some of the other conference schools to become familiar with the site of the 2014 Atlantic Sun Championship. Matuszazak says the course at River City Nature Park is extremely nice, but there may be some nuances that other teams might not expect.
"We will probably be out there once a week all season long just so we know the fastest routes and where any obstacles are," Matuszczak said. "The course is a little bit different than some others that might be more loopy and have less switchbacks. So with that, the (conference) teams that are not coming this weekend might not take that into consideration and into training, where it is something that we can use to our advantage."
After Saturday's season opener, the Hatters will compete in successive weeks in Jacksonville, Orlando, Gainesville, Daytona Beach, Titusville, and Tallahassee, before returning to DeBary for the A-Sun Championship on Nov. 1.
"It will be exciting to be in front of our own fans," Matuszczak said about the conference championship. "Overall, our goal is to finish better than we did last year. Where the cookie crumbles, we will find out."
Preseason Polls: The Atlantic Sun Conference released its men's and women's cross country preseason polls Wednesday. The Hatter men were picked to finish seventh and the women were picked to finish eighth.