WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The UNCW men’s and women’s cross country teams will tackle the toughest course of the season early Saturday when the Seahawks compete in the Mason Invitational at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, Va.

Host George Mason, which finished sixth in the 2012 NCAA Southeast Regionals, will be joined by the Seahawks and four other schools in the races.

“Oatlands Plantation is a tough course,” said Layne Schwier, assistant cross country/track and field coach. “It’s far more challenging than the conference course will be. There are rolling hills, including one massive hill that really beats most runners down. Tackling these obstacles is going to be excellent preparation for the rest of the season because we’re really going to see what our runners are made of on those challenging inclines.”

The men kick off the day at 10 a.m. with an 8K competition, followed by a women’s 6K at 10:45. The teams will traverse the Oatlands Plantation course, overcoming more bumps and hills than they covered on the Colonial Athletic Association Championship layout at Oregon Ridge Park two weeks ago.

In that appearance, the Seahawk men took second overall in the 8K, trailing only Navy. Senior John Reimer, the top runner in all three races this season, paced the men with a sixth-place result out of 48 runners.

Ashley Wybersky, a senior from Manassas, Va., led the women for the third time in the Towson Invitational, winding up 20th out of 85 entries.

“Our previous race showed us where we are in the CAA and where we need to go this season,” Schwier said. “This race will be perfect preparation for our return to Oregon Ridge for the championship. We are intentionally running on tough, hilly courses to physically and mentally prepare for the championship.”

In addition to GMU and UNCW, the men’s and women’s teams of American, Norfolk State and Richard Bland will race, as well as District of Columbia’s women.

Schwier said:  “Our teams have improved immensely, but we are focusing on pack running and consistency more than individual accomplishment this time. We’re pushing the runners to stick together because they are going to have to motivate each other to beat some of these hills.”

Oatlands Plantation, established by George Carter in 1798, is a 260-acre estate that is operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark. The property features a mansion with farmland and gardens, including a greenhouse built in 1810 that is considered to be the oldest standing greenhouse in the South.

Saturday’s race is the team’s fourth outing of the year and marks the midway point of the season. The Seahawks next compete at Blue Ridge Open in Boone on Oct. 18 before the CAA Championships on Nov. 2 in Cockeysville, Md.