TALLAHASSEE, Fla. --- For the second consecutive season, the Georgia men's cross country team has clinched its spot in the NCAA Championships after taking second at the NCAA South Regional Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., on Friday morning.
Individually, sophomore Carly Hamilton earned her first invitation to the NCAA Championships after taking fourth overall in the women's 6k. She and her teammates also have a shot at earning an at-large spot to the national meet.
The NCAA will announce all individual and team at-large bids for the NCAA Championships by noon on Saturday on NCAA.com.
"I'm very proud of the way both of our teams performed today," said Bulldog coach Patrick Cunniff. "I feel like both teams competed so well against a talented group of competitors. All of our crew represented the University of Georgia really well."
The 26th-ranked Bulldog men scored 48 points in the 10k race to earn runner-up honors behind 23rd-ranked Florida State (27). The first- and second-place teams automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky. All five Georgia scorers making their way into the top 15 enabled UGA to leave the Apalachee Regional Park with their best score in history at this meet as six Bulldogs earned All-Region honors.
Florida (67), Georgia Tech (212) and Mississippi State (216) rounded out the top five team finishers.
"To have six All-Region runners and all five scorers in the top 15 shows how tight and how strong this team actually is," Cunniff said.
Georgia also advanced to the 2011 NCAA Championships after earning an at-large bid with a third-place finish at last year's Regionals. The last time the Bulldogs advanced to back-to-back national meets was in 2003-04. Georgia's 29th-place finish at NCAAs last season was an SEC-best showing.
On the women's side, the Lady Bulldogs, who came into the meet ranked fifth in the South Region, surged to a third-place finish with 115 points. Vanderbilt (112) squeezed past Georgia by just three points for the final automatic qualifying spot as the nation's top-ranked team, Florida State (24), cruised to a victory on its home course.
This is the best team finish for the Lady Bulldogs since automatically qualifying for the 2007 NCAA Championships with a runner-up finish. Georgia won its one and only NCAA South Regional title in 2006 before taking 15th at Nationals.
"Our girls ran their hearts out this morning," said Cunniff. "They ran as well as they possibly could have. I am cautiously optimistic now about our chances of making it to the NCAA Championships. I am as proud as I can be of this crew."
During the men's race, junior Brandon Lord continued his improvement at this Regional meet by taking third overall behind a pair of Seminoles. After finishing 50th in 2010 and 16th in 2011, Lord rolled to the best finish for a Bulldog since Simon Ngata won the 2003 meet after placing third. Lord clocked a 30:35.8 with a mile pace of 4:56.
"Brandon finishing in third place in this conference is a super strong outing for him," Cunniff said. "And we are expecting more of the same from him at Nationals."
Senior Brett Richardson was next across the line to earn his second straight All-Region honor, taking eighth. He finished in 30:44.0 as he prepares for his second trip to the NCAA Championships.
Another senior, Brian Detweiler, went from finishing 61st in 2009 and 21st in 2011 to taking 10th this season. The Stone Mountain native completed his laps in 30:46.5. This is also the second year in a row that Detweiler has brought All-Region honors back to Athens.
The Bulldogs' two-time SEC steeplechase champion was the next Bulldog across the line. Senior Matt Cleaver, who was seventh at this meet last season, battled for a 12th place finish this year. He had a time of 30:50.2 after leading the charge for Georgia at last season's NCAA Championships.
"The three seniors on this team made this performance happen," said Cunniff. "They have demonstrated their leadership all season long and they are the ones who really drove us to NCAAs."
Junior Luke Baker was the fifth and final scorer for Georgia after managing a 15th-place finish. He clocked a mark of 30:51.3 for his first All-Region honor during his second time running in the meet.
Also earning All-Region honors was junior Charlie Sparks, who took 21st with a time of 31:15.9. Sophomore Zack Sims was Georgia's final finisher with a time of 31:54.4 for 40th place in the 177-man field.
In the women's race, Hamilton punched her ticket for the NCAA Championships by taking fourth overall with a time of 20:16.1, trailing a trio of Florida State finishers.
Hamilton crossed the line as the top finisher not from the winning team of Florida State. Her fourth-place overall finish punches her ticket to the NCAA Championships as an individual competitor. Hamilton did not finish at the 2011 SEC Championships and then did not compete at last year's Regionals.
This marks the best individual finish for the Lady Bulldogs since Kristie Krueger swept the SEC Championships and the South Regional meet in 2010.
"Carly had an even better performance today than she did at SECs which is really saying something," Cunniff said. "She finished strong against some of the best individual runners in the nation."
Senior Morgan VanGorder also earned All-Region honors after clocking a 20:37.6 for 19th place. She was the 10th runner to finish not on one of the two automatic qualifying teams and will now have to wait and see if she receives an at-large individual bid (if the team does not advance). VanGorder was 69th and 66th during her first two cracks at the Regional meet in 2010 and 2011.
Racing in her first NCAA South Regional, sophomore Bret McDaniel finished one spot out of All-Region honors after taking 26th. The Atlanta native and Wake Forest transfer completed the course in 20:49.2 to be the Lady Bulldogs' second finisher. McDaniel scored in all five of the meets she competed in this season.
Senior Leslie Boozer scored at Regionals for the third consecutive season with a 30th-place finish. The 2011 All-Region performer had a time of 20:53.5 to give Georgia four runners in the top 30 finishers in a field that featured 205 runners.
Junior Nicole DiMercurio rounded out the scorers for Georgia after finishing 36th. She had a time of 21:03.1 during the first trip of her career to Regionals. DiMercurio scored in five meets she competed in this year.
"I thought our next four scorers for the women after Carly gave everything they had and that is all you can ask for," said Cunniff.
The Lady Bulldogs also traveled juniors Savannah Kirk and Stella Christoforou. Kirk was 51st (21:19.7) at her first Regional meet as Christoforou took 76th (21:46.3) during her first stop at this meet.
Full results and a recap from the NCAA South Regional Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.
Georgia's All-Region Performers
So. Carly Hamilton - 4th (20:16.1)
Sr. Morgan VanGorder - 19th (20:37.6)
Jr. Brandon Lord - 3rd (30:35.8)
Sr. Brett Richardson - 8th (30:44.0)
Sr. Brian Detweiler - 10th (30:46.5)
Sr. Matt Cleaver - 12th (30:50.2)
Jr. Luke Baker - 15th (30:51.3)
Jr. Charlie Sparks - 21st (31:15.9)