@AU_TrackXC Opens 2017 Cross Country Campaign at Mount St. Mary’s

@AU_TrackXC Opens 2017 Cross Country Campaign at Mount St. Mary’s

WASHINGTON – The American University cross country team is kicking off its 2017 schedule on Friday, as the teams travel to the Mount St. Mary's 5k Duals. The men will get the day going at 1 p.m. with the women immediately following.

The meet will be scored in a dual-scoring format with each school receiving a dual-meet score against each of the other opponents.

Eleven teams are scheduled to line up alongside AU on Friday, including Patriot League foes Navy and Loyola Maryland, as well as local competitors Catholic University, George Washington and Maryland.

The Eagles have quite the history at the duals, with both the men and women claiming five team titles since the meet began in 2004.

The Eagles return a strong squad for 2017 with all but two of their combined Patriot League teams from 2016 back in uniform. Among the highlights for the men's team is junior Matthew Rainey, who led the team during the final two meets of the season last year, including a 26th overall placing at the Patriot League Championships.

Senior Alaeldin Tirba, who led the men during the first half of the season last year, is also returning for one final season, along with classmates James Belfatto and Liam Purdy. Purdy was a consistent scorer for the Eagles last fall before emerging as one of the Eagles' top performers during the track season, helping the 4x800m team to indoor and outdoor PL titles while also claiming the individual indoor 800m title with the third-fastest time in school history (1:53.25).

Tirba and Rainey were also members of those two title-winning relays, along with junior Tommy Sommer for the outdoor PL Championship.

On the women's side, junior Adriana Hooks and sophomore Arianna Lopez will both return to the course after closing their season last year at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Championships. Hooks led the women's squad throughout the fall, earning her first Second Team All-Patriot League nod after finishing 19th at the league championship with a 6,000-meter personal record (PR) of 21:58.20.

Lopez opened her AU career as the No. 2 runner for the Eagles, hitting a 6,000m PR during the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Championships (22:35.70).

Senior Brianna Belo is another name to look out for on the women's team. Belo closed her junior year with four new school records, including three from the indoor season (500m, 800m, 1000m) and one from the outdoor (800m).

The Eagles will also welcome eight freshmen to the 2017 squad, including Lucia Rose, Nadia Stratton and Shelbi Wuss on the women's side, and Max Lustig, John Pagliaro, Beau Russell, Samuel Smith and Christopher Tibbetts on the men's.

Highlighting the noteworthy additions to AU cross country and track in 2017 is head coach Sean Graham, who rejoined the Eagles family in August.

Graham, a 2011 graduate of American's Kogod School of Business, served as an assistant coach at AU from 2009 to 2011, and again from 2012 to 2013, before spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky under head coach Edrick Floreal.

Graham had a successful track career in his own right, as an All-American performer at William & Mary, where he graduated with his bachelors of business administration in information technology and marketing, before competing post-collegiately with the Nike Farm team in Palo Alto, Calif., and the Nike Oregon Project Elite in Eugene, Ore.

During his tenure at Kentucky, Graham established himself as one of the rising stars in U.S. distance coaching, helping mentor some of the most-decorated male middle distance and distance runners in the program's recent history. Included among the many accolades earned by Graham's student-athletes were two podium finishes on the international stage with an 800-meter gold medalist at the 2014 NACAC Outdoor Championships and the 800m silver medal at the 2014 Canadian national championship, along with a 2016 World Junior Championships qualifier in the 1500m run.

On the collegiate level, Graham guided two NCAA Cross Country Championship qualifiers, two NCAA Indoor All-Americans, two NCAA Outdoor All-Americans, six Southeastern Conference (SEC) titles, eight All-SEC finishers and five Kentucky school records.

Prior to his time with the Wildcats, Graham spent three seasons as an assistant coach at American while pursuing his master of business administration degree from AU's Kogod School of Business. During that time, he helped guide two NCAA Cross Country Championship qualifiers in Octavia Rinehardt (2010) and Mark Allen (2012).

On the track, Graham helped coach Erin Koch and Rinehardt to NCAA Preliminary Round qualifications in 2011, followed by Allen and Mark Leininger in 2013. AU also saw six Patriot League champions during his tenure, including four title-winning performances from school record-holder Octavia Rinehardt.

For the latest on AU Cross Country, stay tuned to AUEagles.com and follow the team on Twitter @AU_TrackXC.