WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The UNCW men’s and women’s cross country teams will put the finishing touches on the regular season in their final race before the Colonial Athletic Association Championship meet when they return to Boone, N.C., to compete in the Blue Ridge Open late Friday.

Appalachian State hosts the competition, starting with a women’s 5K at 3 p.m., and followed by a men’s 8K at 3:45 in the mountains at State Farm Fields, 3,300 feet above sea level.

A massive field will be running, with a total of 28 men’s teams and 29 women’s teams joining the Seahawks in traversing the elevated, mostly flat course in the cool autumn weather.

It marks the fifth appearance of the season for the Seahawks, who ran the same course in the Covered Bridge Open back in late August.

“This race is a benchmark for us every year,” said assistant cross country/track and field coach Layne Schwier. “We get a chance to compare ourselves this year to this point last season, and more importantly we can measure how well we’ll perform at the CAA Championship in a few weeks.”

The men finished ninth out of 16 entries in last year’s Blue Ridge Open, with the women securing seventh out of 14 teams. Seniors John Riemer and Ashley Wybersky led the UNCW teams one year ago.

“We’ll be racing against some of the best at this meet, but we know that we are a stronger, fitter, and far better team than when we ran this layout earlier this season.”

Wybersky was the women’s top runner in the first three competitions of the season, but did not participate in the Mason Invitational two weeks ago. Senior Haley Kapheim paced the women in her stead, and both student-athletes return for this outing.

Riemer and newcomer Zach Nifong return as the Seahawk men’s leaders. Riemer has led the men in all four races, including the same trails in the season opener at the Covered Bridge Open. Nifong, who transferred to UNCW after a year at Appalachian State, joins Riemer after finishing behind him in the past three races.

 “We’re at the point in the season where we shift from training hard to running hard,” said Schwier. “We know that our advantage of returning to this course can give us a big confidence boost, and we are trying to grab that confidence here and carry it into the conference championship next month.”

The Seahawks travel to Cockeysville, Md., on Nov. 2 for the CAA Championships.

Blue Ridge Open Teams:

Division I Schools: UNCW – M/W, Appalachian State – M/W, Coastal Carolina – M/W. Davidson – M, Duke – W, East Tennessee State – M/W, Elon – M/W, Furman – M/W, Gardner-Webb – M/W, George Mason – M/W, Georgia Southern – W, High Point – M/W, Longwood – M/W, Morehead State – M/W, Radford – M/W, USC Upstate – M/W, Virginia Military – M/W, Western Carolina – M/W, Wofford – M/W

Non-Division I Schools: Belmont Abbey – W, Cedarville University – M, Columbia International – M/W, Eastern Mennonite – M/W, Emory and Henry – M/W, Guilford – M/W, Lees-McRae – M/W, Lynchburg – M/W, Milligan – M/W, Montreat – M/W, Northern Kentucky – M/W, Trevecca Nazarene – M/W, Warren Wilson – M/W