Aug. 31, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. --- More than four hours before the football team kicks off, the Bulldog cross country teams will be hosting the Georgia Invitational on a course that wraps around the UGA Equestrian Complex in Bishop on Saturday morning.
The men will start the day with an 8k race at 8 a.m. followed by the women's 5k at 8:45 a.m. Georgia Tech, Mercer University, Campbell University and Point University will be battling the Bulldogs in the collegiate races.
Four high school races are also scheduled following the women's collegiate race. There is no admission to Saturday morning's races and fans are encouraged to park in the designated areas around the entrance to the UGA Equestrian Complex.
Not only will this be the first race of the season for Georgia, it will also be the first race for the Bulldogs' new coach, Patrick Cunniff. Cunniff ran for Georgia from 1988-91 before making coaching stops at the University of Texas, Texas Christian University and Long Beach State, where he guided the distance program from 2007 until this past summer.
"This is a meet for me to really start to get to know our runners," said Cunniff. "I will get to see them run a race and get to know everyone's strengths and weaknesses. The men have already been ranked second in the South Region and 28th nationally in the preseason, which puts some pressure on us. But I also know that this team has goals that are higher than that. As we go forward, we as a track and field and cross country staff are going to prepare our teams to be competitive at the (Southeastern Conference) level, score at the national level on the track and to put our cross country teams and individuals in the NCAA meet."
With 11 combined freshmen added to Georgia's cross country teams in the offseason and all of the squads' runners new to Cunniff, the distance coach is doing his best to get to know his team members in a short period of time and prepare them for the rest of the season.
"We want to represent the University of Georgia as well as we can and with this being a home meet, I think that will be doubly important on Saturday," Cunniff said. "I want our crew to start learning the pattern of running intelligent, aggressive races. In particular, I would like to see us competing very well in the last part of our races. We are hoping to set a pattern of finishing strong leading up to the NCAA meet and then we will be getting the ball rolling in the right direction."
Georgia has swept its home meet the last three years. In 2011, the Bulldog men had all five scorers finish in the top seven and four of those are returning. Senior Matt Cleaver was the runner-up after recording a 24:45.37 to finish seconds behind Alabama's Kemei Carrison. Junior Brandon Lord (25:03.74), senior Brett Richardson (25:12.08) and senior Brian Detweiler (25:15.68) finished third through fifth, respectively, and are all scheduled to run along with Cleaver on Saturday.
On the women's side, Kristie Krueger captured victories at the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Georgia Invitationals, clocking a winning time of 17:25.92 last season. Krueger does not have anymore cross country eligibility but is planning to run for the Lady Bulldogs during the track season. Both senior Leslie Boozer (3rd - 17:56.37) and sophomore Anna Bowles (4th - 18:03.16) are returning scorers for the Lady Bulldogs as the team managed to beat the Yellow Jackets by more than 40 points for the team win last season.
The Bulldog men advanced to their first NCAA Championships since 2004 last season. Georgia topped all of its SEC competition at the national meet, taking 29th. The Bulldogs scored 68 points and finished third at last year's SEC Championships before also taking third at the NCAA South Regionals to help clinch their NCAA bid. The team did not lose any regular scorers from last year.
The Lady Bulldogs were fourth at the 2011 SEC Championships as Krueger, who was the 2010 individual conference champion, finished in the top six for the third consecutive year. The Georgia women then finished fifth at the NCAA South Regionals as Boozer led the way with a 24th-place finish. Krueger and Ashley Shiver, who has been sidelined for medical reasons, are the only two regular scorers from 2011 missing from this year's lineup.
Full results and recaps from Saturday's races will be located at georgiadogs.com.