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Belmont's Matt Edwards takes the lead in the final mile of the Belmont Opener at Percy Warner Park on Saturday.
Belmont's Matt Edwards takes the lead in the final mile of the Belmont Opener at Percy Warner Park on Saturday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Though the Belmont men's cross country team ran a coordinated and conservative race Saturday, Matt Edwards' finishing kick was enough to earn the senior a Belmont Opener championship.

After running as a pack over the opening two miles, Edwards burst to the finish line to win his first NCAA race and help Belmont to a team title as well at soggy Percy Warner Park.

Edwards finished 5 seconds ahead of the nearest competitor in 15:25.35 and five Belmont runners ended up in the top eight placers overall. The Bruins edged Lipscomb 26 team points to 29.

"I felt awesome the whole way," said Edwards, a native of Glamorgan, Wales, now in his second and final year competing for Belmont. "A few Lipscomb guys were coming back to me and that's when the competitive juices kicked in."

Right behind him was the Lipscomb duo of Silas Griffith (15:30.53) and John Green (15:32.28), but then came a pack of Bruins all within about four seconds of each other. Senior Luke Evans (15:33.36) placed fourth, sophomore Ben Weisel (15:36.07) sixth, senior Anthony Didion (15:36.79) seventh and junior Kaden Eaton (15:37.68) eighth. Senior Matt Blivin (15:40.65) followed closely in 12th and sophomore Chase Ballard (15:54.83) finished 14th.

All eight Belmont runners spent the first half of the 5K race grouped in a tight pack, hanging back from a large pod of Lipscomb and Vanderbilt competitors. In the first meet of the season and on a wet course, head coach Jeff Langdon wanted his teams taking it easy.

"The guys and girls both did pretty much exactly what we wanted," Langdon said. "We wanted to go out conservative, run as a pack. We executed well, didn't really care about results."

Some sparkling results came anyway, especially for Edwards. His 15:25.35 marked an NCAA career best, edging his time at this race a year ago by less than a second. He was second at the 2016 Belmont Opener.

"We've increased his mileage significantly from two years ago," Langdon said. "We have him running 15 or 20 more miles a week than he's ever run and I think that's just the difference."

The Bruins will try to repeat the results in two weeks at the Commodore Opener. The Vanderbilt-hosted meet is back at Percy Warner Park on Sept. 16.