Aug 31, 2013
BISHOP, Ga. --- Seniors Brandon Lord and Nicole DiMercurio each won individually and helped the Bulldogs sweep the Georgia Cross Country Invitational for the fifth consecutive year in Bishop, Ga., on Saturday morning.
The UGA men had the first, second, fourth, fifth and ninth finishers on the 8k course to score 21 points and top Georgia Tech, Mercer and Emmanuel College. On the women's side, DiMercurio cruised to her first collegiate victory as the Lady Bulldogs went first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth on the 5k course to score 18 points and leave the competition behind.
"I think it was a solid start for both the men and the women," said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff. "Much like we expected, a couple of our seniors and older runners were able to lead the team. Seeing Brandon Lord and Nicole DiMercurio get the wins in their races was great for them. I thought we showed pretty good depth. I'm a little worried about some of the gaps, but hopefully we'll get some people a little more experienced and a little more training so that they'll be able to handle that.
"The challenge for both the men and the women is now to handle bigger races and better competition. As the women move up to 6k and the men to a 10k, the key is going to be finishing strong in the last part of the race."
Cunniff added that the goal for Saturday's races was to ease into the first portion of the course and close strongly.
"The strategy was to go out very conservatively and really work hard the last two miles for the men and one mile for the women," said Cunniff. "I think we did that pretty well, but I think the one thing we saw is that with the high humidity, some people may have gone out under control but still struggled at the end."
The first race on the course that winds around the UGA Equestrian Complex was the men's 8k. Lord trimmed 27 seconds off his time last season and clocked a 25:49.17 for the win. Not only did Lord win the 2012 meet, but he was also third in 2011 and was the second Bulldog to cross the finish line at last year's NCAA Cross Country Championships where UGA finished a program best 19th.
"It was a good race today," Lord said. "I'm glad that I had some momentum today. I got a late start training for the season this summer, and I've just trying to get back into shape, so I've been pushing the training a whole lot. It's nice to know that I can still have a good performance while training pretty hard. As a team as well, it's the same situation. Everyone is working hard right now, and those guys really put on a good show today. We had a good group of guys up front for most of the race, which is exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to go out at a pretty moderate pace for the first three miles and then race the last two to see where everyone was with a little fatigue in them, and I think everyone handled that pretty well. It was a good day overall, and I'm happy with it personally."
Six seconds behind Lord was fellow senior Luke Baker, who finished in 25:55.25 to improve his spot one place from 2012.
Trailing the pair of Bulldog seniors were another two Georgia upperclassmen. Junior Zack Sims posted the first top-10 performance of his career to take fourth with a mark of 26:03.72. Opening his career in 2010 with a ninth-place finish at this meet, senior Charlie Sparks took fifth for the second season in a row after finishing in 26:08.52.
The Bulldogs' final scorer on the day was 2011 All-SEC Freshmen team member Brendan Hoban. Hoban was ninth overall thanks to a time of 26:24.32.
The Georgia women, who advanced last year to their first NCAA Championships since 2007, cruised to a convincing win in their season opener. DiMercurio posted the best performance of her career by running past the 73 other competitors in the field and winning by 15 seconds. The Suwanee, Ga., native clocked an 18:28.00 after taking fifth at last year's meet.
"It felt really good," said DiMercurio. "It was nice to get out here with the whole team. We have a bunch of freshmen, so it was really nice to get out on the course and see how the rest of the season is going to go moving forward. As for me, I'm just focusing on staying strong and looking for the finish line."
The Lady Bulldogs followed DiMercurio's example and had four out of the next five finishers. A 16th-place finisher at the 2012 UGA home meet, junior Erika Ramsey snagged runner-up honors this time around after Ramsey flew across the finish line in 18:43.02.
Georgia Tech had the third-place finisher before the UGA women battled for the next three spots. Senior Savannah Kirk also had the top showing of her career after taking fourth (18:57.91). Her previous best finish at the Georgia Cross Country Invitational was 12th in 2010, which was in her first collegiate meet.
Seniors Stella Christoforou and Megan Malasarte, who are middle-distance runners, managed to also score the Lady Bulldogs. Christoforou took fifth with a 19:02.96 as Malasarte was sixth with a 19:06.29. This marked Malasarte's first collegiate cross country meet as she has earned All-America honors in the 800-meter run on the track.
The Bulldogs return to action at the Furman Cross Country Classic in Greenville, S.C., on Sept. 14.
"This race shouldn't be any indication of the rest of the season, as far as our potential. There are a lot of guys working really hard right now to get ready for November, not August. This race shows that we're fit right now, but we still have room to improve and we've already improved from last year."
"I thought we all finished really strong as a team today. We took the first two miles out strong and tried to stay together, but I think we're working really well together now."