WILMINGTON, North Carolina – The new-look UNCW cross country teams make their season debut Friday when the Seahawks travel west to the North Carolina mountains to compete in the Covered Bridge Open in Boone.

The Seahawks will carry eight men and 10 women to the High Country to battle four other teams in the race hosted by Appalachian State. The women kick off the race with a 5K trek at 5 p.m., followed by the men running an 8K at 5:45 p.m.

“We’re excited about the season and looking forward to what it brings,” said Layne Schwier, UNCW’s long distance coach. In addition to the host Mountaineers and Seahawks, the field includes East Carolina, Florida State, USC Upstate and VMI.

“The competition will be strong and a tough test for us early. We’ll be treating it as an opportunity to get our feet wet, shake off some rust and work on some team racing strategy. We are nowhere near the top fitness-wise, but it will be a good early season indicator that we can compare ourselves to when we return there in mid-October to race the same course and race distances. That’s when we hope to be racing well and seeing some progress as we get closer to CAA’s.”

The UNCW men’s team will be anchored by senior captains John Riemer and Dylan Skinner, along with junior Casey Buddenbaum. Transfers Zach Nifong (Appalachian State) and Will Bunch (N.C. State) give the men additional depth this season.

Riemer, from Monkton, Md., was the team’s top finisher in five of seven races last season and UNCW’s top runner at the Colonial Athletic Association Championships.

On the women’s side, senior captain Ashley Wybersky and fellow senior Haley Kapheim are ready to lead the way. Sophomores Sarah Alexander and Dakota Foskey have looked strong in time trials and newcomers Parker Navarro, Hannah Riordan and Michael Moran have positioned themselves to contribute this season.

Wybersky, a Manassas, Va., product, started slowly last season, but finished strong and led the team in the last four races of the campaign, including the CAA meet and NCAA Southeast Regionals.

The 2013 schedule features seven races, including a pair of trips to Boone and Towson, site of the CAA Championships in early November.

“We enjoy going up to Appalachian State for cooler temperatures, good competition and the opportunity to get some running in at Moses Cone before returning. Despite being in the mountains, the course is not all that hilly. The challenge is the altitude of 3,300 feet because we’re not used to that.”

Following Friday’s season debut, the Seahawks return home to stage the Seahawk Invitational next Friday. The men will start at 6 p.m. and the women are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. on the campus recreation fields. State rivals Campbell and East Carolina will join the Seahawks and several NCAA Division II and III schools for the race.

UNCW then travels to Towson Sept. 21 to get an early peek at the CAA course at Oregon Ridge Park near Hunt Valley, Md. The Seahawks will have a chance to test the hilly layout before returning Nov. 2 for the conference finale.