Sept. 3, 2011
BISHOP, Ga. --- Georgia's cross country teams swept the season-opening Georgia Invitational for the third consecutive season at theBulldogs' home course in Bishop, Ga., on Saturday morning.
Senior Kristie Krueger won her third individual 5k title in a row at the meet as well as the Lady Bulldogs (19) finished far ahead of Alabama (54), Georgia State (68), Tulane (110), Georgia Tech (150), Mercer (153), Emmanuel (223) and Clark Atlanta (236).
On the men's side, Georgia got a boost from senior Matt Cleaver's runner-up finish in the 8k as the Bulldogs (21) left Georgia Tech (63), Alabama (76), Mercer (104), Georgia State (171), Emmanuel (198), Tulane (209), Morehouse (244), Chattahoochee Tech (263) and Clark Atlanta (342) far behind in the team standings.
"There was a great environment for racing out here today," said Bulldog distance coach Jeff Pigg. "It was a little warm and dusty out there, but our crew reacted well to everything that came their way and I'm proud of their performances. I appreciate all of the other teams coming to town for this one as well. Hopefully we can keep this tradition going of having a great meet at home."
Krueger, who is the defending Southeastern Conference and NCAA South Regional champion, shot away from the pack with teammates AshleyShiver and Leslie Boozer early in the race. After working together through the first portion of the course, Krueger took control of the race and finished with a time of 17:25.92.
She was the first of four Lady Bulldogs across the finish line in a row as Shiver (17:55.84) took second, Boozer (17:56.37) finished third and freshman Anna Bowles (18:03.16) managed a fourth-place finish. Sophomore Anne Centner rounded out the scoring for Georgia after finishing ninth with a time of 18:26.97.
"I really wasn't going for any specific time or anything today," said Krueger. "I just wanted to open up with a solid meet. It was hot, but I thought I did pretty well. I guess I am happy about it, nothing really to complain about."
Krueger is returning from a leg injury that sidelined the Argyle, Texas, native for the 2011 indoor and outdoor seasons. Her last action came as she earned All-America honors at the 2010 NCAA Cross Country Championships last November.
"It's been tough coming back," Krueger said. "This was my first race in almost a year. It was a whole different feeling that you have to get used to again. I'm hoping by November when it really counts that I will be back to where I was, because I'm not right now and that's for sure. But this was a good starting point and now I know where my fitness level is. I'm just ready to get to work now."
With 10 of the first 20 finishers wearing Georgia colors, Pigg was encouraged about his team's chances as the season progresses.
"Our women did what we thought they were going to do," said Pigg. "Kristie Krueger looked really solid in her first meet back so that was good to see. (Ashley) Shiver is back and better than last year and you can tell Leslie Boozer is competing at another level this year. It was satisfying to see Emily Houston have a strong, healthy run and Ann (Centner) get in the mix as well. I also thought that Anna Bowles and Carly Hamilton looked awesome during their first collegiate meet. We have a lot of depth and talent so I am excited for the next couple of months."
Similarly to how he started and finished at the 2010 meet, junior Brett Richardson jumped out to an early lead in the men's 8k with a string of teammates closely following. Senior Matt Cleaver then moved away from the pack with Alabama junior Carrison Kemei during the runners' first loop around the course.
In the final kilometer, Kemei (24:37.34) used a kick to pass Cleaver (24:45.37) and tally the victory. But in addition to Cleaver's second-place finish, the Bulldogs were third through fifth place in the individual standings and seventh through ninth to lock down their team win.
Sophomore Brandon Lord (25:03.74) recorded a third-place finish as Richardson (25:12.08) and junior Brian Detweiler (25:15.68) finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Trevor Sprague (25:19.60) was the fifth and final scorer for Georgia after taking seventh as seniors Nick Long and J.P. Hackney also broke into the top 10 intheir final home cross country meet.
"This was a solid start for the guys," said Cleaver. "This year was the talk of the whole season last year since some of us were out in 2010 so now that it's here, we are getting really excited. Especially having a chance to race against Alabama in this type of competition since it is huge as far as the SEC goes and nationally. All in all, I think we're pretty pleased with our first performance. There's still work to be done and I think we are hungry for more."
Cleaver won the 2011 SEC steeplechase crown for the Bulldogs on the track and is honored to be back in action for the cross country teamafter redshirting in 2010.
"It feels incredible to be back," Cleaver said. "Just wearing the red and black again feels great. I ran unattached two meets last year during cross country and was independent during the indoor season as well so wearing `Georgia' across your chest again, no words can explain it."
With Alabama picked to finish second in the conference in the league's preseason poll, Pigg, whose squad was selected to take fourth, is hoping this meet made a statement for his team.
"We came into this meet knowing that Alabama is thought of as one of the top teams in the conference and I thought our group reacted well and came to the course today ready to roll," Pigg said. "Matt Cleaver, Brett Richardson and Brandon Lord - we know this is a really good group that is healthy right now and should be a definite threat in the SEC. Brian Detweiler looked like he is approaching the form he showed his freshman season so that is encouraging. Trevor (Sprague) had to sit out last year and was running about 120 miles a week to get to into the shape he wanted to be in and I think he has done a great job preparing for this year. It was also nice to see Nick Long come back from his redshirt year and get in the top 10 at this meet and for J.P. (Hackney) to have a good start to his senior year. Fraser Reade had one of his best meets as a Bulldog today and the freshmen looked solid in their first meet. I was really encouraged by this first meetfor our team."
Georgia returns to action in Hampton, Ga., at the Georgia State Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 9 a.m.