ST. LOUIS – The Billikens’ men’s and women’s cross country teams open the 2017 season Friday afternoon in the collegiate portion of the Forest Park XC Festival. The meet will once again be held at Aviation Field in Forest Park.

The women will run a 5K beginning at 4:30 p.m. The men will compete in a 7.5K starting at 5:15 p.m. Live results from the meet can be accessed on the official race website, www.fpxc.com.

The SLU men’s team, which was picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 Conference preseason coaches poll (two first-place votes), returns a pair of A-10 All-Conference honorees in Manuel De Backer and Matt Prest.

SLU won the collegiate portion of last year’s Forest Park XC Festival, one of three team titles in 2016 for the Billikens. De Backer led SLU with a second-place finish, running a 6K time of 18:55.

“The men are coming off their best season since the program was reestablished in 1992,” SLU head coach Jon Bell said. “We lost only one student-athlete to graduation and added some quality freshmen to the group. It is a lot of fun to coach this team. They have great team chemistry to go along with a great deal of talent. These are men who want to push themselves and each other every day, so our challenge is balancing their ambitions versus sensibility. To me, this means we are ready to take the next steps in success. We are all excited to get this season under way.”

The women’s team, picked eighth in the A-10 preseason coaches poll, features 10 upperclassmen. The Billikens also return their top five runners from a season ago.

Courtney Link and Amy Kieliszewski finished first and second, respectively, at last year’s Forest Park XC Festival as the women’s team took home the team title.

“Admittedly, the women did not have their best season last year,” Bell said. “However, we have all put that behind us. We return our entire group from last year, and our approach this year is 180 degrees different than last year. We are focusing on each day as it comes, and celebrating our small victories more often. The women's team has talent and can be successful, but for us to realize that success we have to take small steps every day. Since the women have been on campus this is exactly what we have done, and I can see a big difference with our attitude. We are excited to prove to ourselves we are a much better team than what we showed last year."

Following the season-opening meet on Friday, the Billikens head to the University of Notre Dame for the National Catholic Championships on Friday, Sept. 15. The complete meet schedule is available here.