ATHENS, Ga. --- In just his third year as Georgia's cross country coach, Dave Hartman guided the Lady Bulldogs to the best season in the program's history in 2006.
Featuring a mixture of seasoned veterans and youthful talent, the Georgia women finished 15th at the 6K NCAA Championships on Nov. 20. The Lady Bulldogs' national finish came on the heels of them claiming their first NCAA South Regional title after blowing past Florida, one of Georgia's Southeastern Conference rivals, with a lopsided score of 35-70 in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 11.
The cross country teams also broke another record at the South Regional. In addition to senior Ian Burrell and Matt Goodale earning All-Region honors for the men's team, senior Jill Steffens, Kristin Heffelfinger, junior Natalie Picchetti, junior Sarah Madebach and junior Kiah Vernon gave Georgia seven All-Region performers, which broke the program's previous record of six.
Georgia's accomplishments at the 2006 SEC Championships in Baton Rouge on Oct. 28 were also substantial. On top of the Lady Bulldogs' runner-up finish at the conference meet, four Georgia runners returned to Athens with All-SEC honors. Burrell, Steffens, Heffelfinger and Picchetti were named as some of the league's premier competitors after finishing in the top 15 in their respective races.
Hartman also garnered a personal accolade at the season's end. After his women's team locked down its first regional championship, Hartman was named the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Association's (USTFCCCA) South Region Women's Coach of the Year. Hartman, who also coaches the distance runners on Georgia's track and field team, was also named the 2006 USTFCCCA East Region Women's Distance Coach of the Year after the spring track season.
Leading the charge for the Lady Bulldogs as they recorded their historic 15th-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., was junior Natalie Picchetti, who recorded a 59th-place finish (21:44.1). Also breaking into the field's top 100 were senior Jill Steffens (92nd - 22:05.5) and junior Sarah Madebach (95th - 22:06.9). Georgia's final two scorers at the NCAA Championships were Kristin Heffelfinger and Kiah Vernon, as the Lady Bulldogs finished with 401 points.
In what could be considered one of the most dominant performances at any school across the nation, the Georgia women had four finishes in the top 10 at the NCAA South Regional on Tennessee's home course. While Steffens clocked a 21:17.8 for third place overall, Heffelfinger took fourth (21:24.7), Picchetti crossed the finish line sixth (21:31.2) and Madebach finished seventh (21:31.8). Also, Vernon, who was the Lady Bulldogs' top finisher at the 2005 national meet, finished 15th (21:48.2) for Georgia.
On the men's side, Burrell, who managed a 105th-place finish (32:39.9) in the 10K at NCAAs, took seventh at the South Regionals with a time of 31:15.7 and Goodale finished 21st (32:10.9) as the Georgia men came away with a fifth-place finish with 142 points.
Although Arkansas swept both the men's and women's races at the SEC Championships, the Lady Bulldogs recorded a second-place finish and the Georgia men rallied for fifth. For the women, Steffens sped to a fourth-place overall finish (20:18.72) and Heffelfinger battled for ninth (20:27.05). The Bulldogs' top finisher was Burrell, who was also named to the All-SEC team in 2005, took 13th (24:35.83) in Baton Rouge.
During Georgia's first meets of the season, both the men and women encountered a great deal of success from Cullowhee, N.C., to Southbend, Ind.
The Lady Bulldogs, who started the season ranked 27th nationally, won both the Western Carolina Invitational and a dual meet with the Catamounts in consecutive days. Following those wins, the Georgia women finished eighth at the Notre Dame Invitational and 10th at the NCAA Pre-Nationals against some of the top competition in the country.
The Bulldogs jump-started their 2006 campaign by placing second at the season-opening Western Carolina Invitational. After coming through with another runner-up finish at the Auburn Invitational, the Georgia men took 25th at the Pre-National meet. In addition to the stellar outings by Burrell and Goodale, senior Sam Gillespie capped his final campaign by being the first finisher in both the season's first meet and at the dual meet versus Western Carolina.