CHARLETSON, Ill. -- With all five scorers in the top 25 placers, the Belmont men's cross country team finished third at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships on Saturday.
Running in near-freezing temperatures at Eastern Illinois University's 8K Panther Trail course in Charleston, Ill., the Bruins took the bronze with 94 team points. Belmont was second at conference a year ago and had hoped to stay there in 2017.
"It's hard to be disappointed with third place but that just says where we are as a program," Belmont Head Coach Jeff Langdon said of his team's high expectations.
Competing without senior Matthew Edwards, who missed the race after undergoing an emergency appendectomy less than two weeks ago, Langdon needed a runner to step up to pacesetting sophomore Kaleb McLeod's level for the Bruins to have hope of another top-three finish.
Declan McManus answered the call. A sophomore, McManus (Worcestershire, England) ran a personal best 24:44.5 to finish just five seconds behind McLeod (Soperton, Ga.), the team's top runner through most of the season. With temperatures in the 30s at race time, McLeod placed 12th in 24:39.5 with McManus 14th.
"I think not having Edwards took an emotional toll on these guys and we just looked a bit flat," Langdon said. "Declan really stepped up for the team and is finally getting his fitness level to where it needs to be."
McLeod's 12th place matched his OVC finish from two years ago, but he shaved a full 40 seconds off that time. McManus, who was OVC Freshman of the Year in 2015 after a fifth-place finish at the conference meet, was 14 seconds lower to beat what was then his PR time.
McManus and McLeod's finishes earned them All-OVC Second Team honors.
"I knew it was going to be a pretty flat course so I was going to go out pretty fast," McLeod said. "Just go out there, get behind that front pack and just hang on, see where that took me."
Belmont senior Luke Evans (Columbus, Ohio) crossed the finish line at the 25-minute mark to take 19th in 25:01.5 and junior Kaden Eaton (Columbus, Ind.) and sophomore Ben Weisel (Nashville, Tenn.) finished together in 24th and 25th place, respectively. Eaton crossed at 25:14.0 with Weisel a step behind at 25:14.3.
Edwin Kurgat, a sophomore from Tennessee Martin, won the individual OVC championship in 23:59.8. Eastern Kentucky was the team titlist with 36 points to earn its 12th straight crown, and Morehead State finished runner-up with 59 points.
Up next for the Bruins is a trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the NCAA South Region Championships on Friday, Nov. 10.
12. Kaleb McLeod, so., 24:39.5
14. Declan McManus, so., 24:44.5*
19. Luke Evans, sr., 25:01.5
24. Kaden Eaton, jr., 25:14.0
25. Ben Weisel, so., 25:14.3
28. Chase Ballard, so., 25:25.0
35. Matt Blivin, sr., 25:37.0
-- Anthony Didion, sr., 25:39.4
-- Daniel White, fr., 25:54.2