Senior Charlie Sparks
Nov. 15, 2013
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. --- The Georgia men edged Florida by a point to clinch the team title at the NCAA South Regional Cross Country Championships and a spot at the NCAA Championships at the Harry Pritchett Cross Country Course in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Friday.
The Bulldogs had three individual finishers in the top 10 and scored 72 points in their first 10k of the season to beat the Gators (73) by a point. Florida State (101), Auburn (117) and Tennessee (181) rounded out the top three.
This marks the second time the Georgia men have captured an NCAA Regional title and the first time since 2003.
The Georgia women raced in their 6k after the men’s race and finished sixth with 175 points. Coming into the meet ranked ninth in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region poll, the Lady Bulldogs finished behind meet champion Florida State (35), Vanderbilt (116), Alabama (143), Florida (153) and Ole Miss (169).
The two top teams from each of the nine regions automatically advanced to the NCAA Championships, which are in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23. Individually, the top four finishers who were not on a qualifying team (automatic or at-large) are also expected to receive an invitation to Nationals. In addition, there will be 13 at-large team bids for each gender and one at-large individual bid for each gender.
“This was a great day for the University of Georgia cross country and track and field program,” said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff. “It was great not just because we won, but because we had 14 incredible individuals running and competing for us. They represented the Bulldogs with pride and I am proud of their efforts.”
Senior Luke Baker, who has now led Georgia in its last three meets, matched his performance at the Southeastern Conference Championships two weeks after taking fourth with a 29:53.46. Not far behind him, senior Brandon Lord battled for a seventh-place finish and senior Charlie Sparks surged to a 10th-place finish to pace the Bulldog attack.
“It is very exciting to have these results on the men’s side,” Cunniff said “We had a plan that everyone believed in and everyone on this team ran hard to the finish. We pulled this race out during the last (two to three kilometers), which shows our preparation all year paid off. “Our three seniors defined what type of leaders they are and all showed character. Luke continued his solid streak of leading us for three consecutive meets after also taking fourth place at SECs. Brandon has been battling some health problems which had been bugging him and rallied for seventh place. And Charlie Sparks was incredible since he worked his way from being the 50s all the way to 10th place when he crossed the line.”
Unable to finish the last two races, junior Carly Hamilton raced to a 15th-place finish for the Lady Bulldogs after crossing the finish line in 20:38.87. Senior Nicole DiMercurio had the best Regionals finish of her life to take 25th while junior Bret McDaniel made her debut at the meet and scored in a 38th-place finish.
“The results from the women’s race weren’t perfect, but at least our entire team came to race and fought the entire way,” said Cunniff. “Everyone gave it their best effort. We proved today that our finish at the SEC Championships was not an accurate snapshot of what this team truly is.”
During the opening race of the day, the Bulldogs slipped into third place behind the leader by more than 100 points after 2k. Between the 4k and 6k, Georgia cut the lead to just 18 points as Sparks shot from a spot in the mid-50s to 25th place. In the final 4k, Sparks moved all the way to 10th place as Lord and Baker established their spots in the top seven.
Lord, who led Georgia in its first two meets including a win at the season opener, registered a time of 30:08.61 to give him a pair of top-10 finishes at Regional meets. Sparks clocked a 30:18.76 to post his career-best performance by 11 spots.
The Bulldogs final two scorers were juniors Zack Sims and Brendan Hoban. Sims crossed the finish line in 30:37.47, which cut his 40th place in 2012 in half for 20th-place honors. Running for the first time at Regionals, Hoban took 31st with a time of 30:53.40.
On the women’s side, DiMercurio was 25th out of 194 competitors after recording a finish of 20:52.49. McDaniel, who led the Lady Bulldogs at the SEC meet (18th), was 38th with a 21:05.95 on Friday.
The final two scorers for the Georgia women were senior Stella Christoforou and junior Erika Ramsey. Christoforou trimmed 25 spots off of her finish last year thanks to a time of 21:20.01. Ramsey ran at the Regional meet for the first time and completed the course in 21:26.84.
The Georgia men will now make their third consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. Last season, the Bulldogs posted the best finish in school history at the national meet (19th).
Full results and the recap from the NCAA South Regional Championships will be found at georgiadogs.com.
TEAM RESULTS (TOP 10)
1. GEORGIA – 72
2. Florida – 73
3. Florida State – 101
4. Auburn – 117
5. Tennessee – 181
6. Lipscomb – 199
7. Mississippi State – 242
8. Belmont – 253
9. Mississippi – 255
10. Georgia Tech – 263
1. Florida State – 35
2. Vanderbilt – 116
3. Alabama – 143
4. Florida – 153
5. Mississippi – 169
6. GEORGIA – 175
7. Mississippi State – 198
8. Lipscomb – 223
9. Tennessee – 231
10. Auburn - 303
BULLDOG INDIVIDUAL RESULTS
4. Luke Baker – 29:53.46
7. Brandon Lord – 30:08.61
10. Charlie Sparks – 30:18.76
20. Zack Sims – 30:37.47
31. Brendan Hoban – 30:53.40
35. Steven Spevacek – 30:57.65
71. Sid Vaughn – 31:43.70
WOMEN 15. Carly Hamilton – 20:38.87
25. Nicole DiMercurio – 20:52.49
38. Bret McDaniel – 21:05.95
51. Stella Christoforou – 21:20.01
57. Erika Ramsey – 21:26.84
61. Savannah Kirk – 21:29.82
107. Marrion Kalafut – 22:06.46