Bulldog Cross Country Faces Nation's Elite At Greater Louisville Classic
Senior Leslie Boozer is the one current Lady Bulldog who scored at the 2010 Greater Louisville Classic.

Senior Leslie Boozer is the one current Lady Bulldog who scored at the 2010 Greater Louisville Classic.
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Sept. 28, 2012

ATHENS, Ga. --- The Georgia cross country teams return to the road this weekend to race at the Greater Louisville Classic at the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park on Saturday morning. 

The Bulldog men will line up for the 8k distance while the Lady Bulldogs are set to battle in the 5k competition.

“We are taking 10 men and 10 women and we believe we have two deep squads with every athlete capable of helping the team,” said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff.  “I think Brandon Lord and Matt Cleaver can build off their outstanding seasons a year ago, and in track, to establish themselves as true national level cross country runners.  And we know that our other NCAA returners led by Brett Richardson and Brian Detweiler have gained confidence, experience and have worked extremely hard since last year and we want to see the early fruit of that labor.

“The women will be led by our two seniors, Morgan VanGorder and Leslie Boozer.  I think running with them will be a huge plus for Carly Hamilton, who was our No. 1 at Vanderbilt.  Any one of four or five girls could be our No. 1, and even more important, we want all 10 working very hard to make sure we have a great fifth finisher and set that team score.”

Georgia will be joined by the top-ranked Wisconsin men, the top-ranked Washington women, the third-ranked BYU men, the fourth-ranked Georgetown women, the sixth-ranked Texas men, the eighth-ranked Vanderbilt women, the 10th-ranked Arkansas women, the 12th-ranked Arizona women, the 14th-ranked Michigan State women, the 15th-ranked Georgetown men, the 17th-ranked Arkansas men, the 17th-ranked Penn State women and the 29th-ranked Wisconsin women, among others.

Overall, representatives from 112 different schools are expected to race on Saturday.

“Ultimately, you have to either finish in the top 2 in your region or you better have some points,” said Cunniff about what it takes to advance to the NCAA Championships (Nov. 17) field.  "It's a tricky balance not to peak too soon but by running such a great schedule we give ourselves multiple opportunities to pick up points.  Early invitationals are always interesting too because you may catch a really good team at less then full strength or working on something that allows you to beat them.  The women's race is loaded with ranked teams and teams just out of the polls.  Those are the teams we want to compare ourselves too and compete against.

“For the men, there are less teams to go after but I believe we want to establish ourselves as legitimate nationals threats and prove how solid we are.  In many ways our men are the ‘hunted’ but I think we can gain a good measure of confidence if we finish amongst the top teams, which will help us going forward."

The Bulldogs opened their season by sweeping the Georgia Invitational for the fourth consecutive season.  While resting eight or more of their top performers, slimmed down UGA rosters traveled to the Commodore Classic two weeks ago.  Cunniff said now is the point of the season when the results start counting.

“This the first meet of the ‘real’ season, both from the perspective of being up against a big field and deep competition and the fact that these meets all now count for at-large points to qualify for NCAAs,” Cunniff explained.  “It's an important meet in terms of checking our fitness and our progress towards championship season; but it's also time to get those competitive juices going too.  For our men, it's exciting to put our full squad out there and see how we stack up.  We know we are very fit but not super fast or sharp yet.  Still, you want to see such an experienced and talented group compete well and take the next step towards NCAAs.

“Again for the women, it is nice to put all our best women on the line in the same race.  I think traveling together and competing together will allow this team to start to set its identity.  I believe it is a good group and that we have a lot of potential.  We want to see hard racing but smart racing and hope to see women fighting for every place at the end with team success in mind.  This meet is only our first ‘serious’ invitational but should tell us a lot about both squads and give us a good idea what to work on going forward.”

Cunniff has said the Greater Louisville Classic be an important test for his teams as far as who they will be lining up against at the meet.  But the first-year Bulldog coach also says running on the same course that the NCAA Championships will be held on and getting a feel for the area are also key components to his teams’ success down the road.

“Just like two weeks ago, there is great value in establishing your travel routine and seeing the area and the course,” said Cunniff, whose teams competed at Vanderbilt in preparation for the SEC Championships, which will be held on the same course.  “Both squads will actually run a different distance at NCAAs, but at least you know the terrain and the layout, and little snippets can sneak into your dreams for the next six weeks.  You get a tangible sense that ‘this is the place, this is the course and we want to be back here on November 17 with a national championship on the line’.  I get excited just thinking about it in my office, so when we are out there on the ground it has to get the team fired up.  I think it helps fuel you for all the work we do and sacrifices these athletes make the next six or seven weeks to get there.”

Georgia last visited the Greater Louisville Classic was during the 2010 season.  Kristie Krueger earned runner-up honors to help give the Lady Bulldogs a third-place finish two seasons ago.  Boozer is a current runner who scored at the meet after clocking an 18:15.43 for 67th place.

The Bulldog men finished eighth at the meet, as Lord was the team’s top finisher for the first time in his career.  The Chattanooga, Tenn., native finished 44th (24:38.65).  Senior Brett Richardson (72nd – 24:52.44) and junior Charlie Sparks (82nd – 24:58.50) are also current Georgia runners who scored the last time the Bulldogs ventured to Louisville.

Full results and a recap from the Greater Louisville Classic will be posted at georgiadogs.com following the race action.

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