Samford Sports Wrap Up: Chad Balyo

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.– Today we continue the Samford Sports Wrap Up, Presented by Alabama Power, a series highlighting Samford’s coaches and staff throughout the academic year. Today’s edition will feature cross-country coach Chad Balyo.
The Samford cross-country team opened its 2021 season at the UNA Showcase on Sept. 17. The women’s team finished fifth, while the men came in ninth. Balyo talked about what he saw from his teams during the first meet of the season.
“It was fun to get out there,” Balyo said. “The women ran exceptionally well early in the season. We had a really good top four, missing a little bit a fifth. Harper McGowan, she was just kind of getting back into the swing of things. Overall, on the women’s side, I thought McKenzie Hogue ran incredibly tough. Mary Kellison Thorne was a good surprise, she ran well. And then an incoming freshman Sinkenesh Parker, who did a really good job in her opener, as well as Allison Nelson, who had a really good summer. You could see it coming on the women’s side for sure. It’s always fun to get out there and beat up on a couple of Power 5 schools, helping us get into the rankings.
“On the men’s side, overall, it wasn’t a bad day,” Balyo said. “We need to work a little bit on the depth, but we’ve got Ben Myers coming back this weekend, so I’m optimistic that the best races are in front of us on the men’s side.”
The women’s team is currently ranked 12th in the south region, and seven of the 11 teams ahead of the Bulldogs are from Power-5 conferences.
“We’re excited about it,” Balyo said. “The one thing I’m really talking a little more about and want a culture a little bit more around is really performing at the NCAA Regional Championships. That’s something that I feel like we need to do a better job of, and we have the talent on the women’s side to make a dent at that meet and do something special. That’s one thing we’ve been talking about as a program, starting this summer, is how high we can finish. I really hope this is just the beginning. I hope that we are a top 10 team on Nov. 12 in Huntsville for the NCAA Regional Championships.”
The NCAA Regional meet will be held at the same course the UNA Showcase was held. Balyo said he hopes that experience will help his team when the Regional meet arrives.
“That’s a big reason why we went up to Huntsville to run it,” Balyo said. “I think it’s huge. It’s really nice to be able to get familiar with the area, the hotel, what we’re going to have for breakfast, where we’re going to go to the grocery store. And then, on top of that, to see the course, tangents, turns, get a good idea where to make a move, run hard so we can have a real concrete game plan come NCAAs.”
Balyo talked about some runners he expects to step up the season.
“On the guys’ side, Jackson Merrell is one,” Balyo said. “He’s a sophomore now, from Homewood High School. He’s a tough kid, reminds me of a younger Dillon Dean back in the day. He is healthy, he’s excited, and he ran really well, broke 26 minutes for the first time in Huntsville. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can do over the course of the next six weeks.
“And then on the women’s side, incoming freshman Sinkenesh Parker from Florida,” Balyo said. “Just an awesome kid, comes from a really great family and had a really great opener. I think she set a PB right around 17:30 for a 5K and was pretty close to McKenzie. So, I think she has an incredibly bright future for our program. I’m looking forward to seeing her compete here in the next couple of weeks.”
This weekend, the teams will compete in the Alexander/Asics Invitational in Fairburn, Georgia. Balyo talked a little about what he expects to see at that meet, as well as how it affects the remainder of the season.
“It should be a competitive field,” Balyo said. “We are looking forward to that. Georgia, Georgia Tech are going to be there, both teams are ranked in the region as well. I’m just looking for another really hard effort, and looking past this, I’m looking forward to championship season and possibly what that second week in October could be. I’m debating taking the team to Pre-Nats or the UAB Invite, so we’ll see how that goes and make that decision after the race.”
The Southern Conference Championships are now less than a month away. Balyo talked about the progress of the team as the championship season draws closer.
“I think we’re getting there,” Balyo said. “We’ve been really consistent with our top five and we just need to keep that going. I’m looking forward to the next six weeks of training. We’ve been in a real aerobic development phase of training and I’m excited to work on getting a little bit more specific race-pace work in the next six weeks, get a little sharper and a little more prepared for a hard 8K and a hard 6K on the women’s side.”
Saturday’s Alexander/Asics Invitational begins with a men’s 8K race at 7 a.m. (CT), followed by a women’s 5K race at 8 a.m. (CT). The follow the results live, click on the following link: LIVE RESULTS.

For the latest news and information on Samford Cross-Country, visit the official website for Samford Athletics at Fans can also follow the Bulldogs on social media at /SamfordSports (Facebook), @SamfordXC_TF (Twitter), and @samfordxctf (Instagram).

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