Bulldog Cross Country Earns At-Large Bid To NCAA Championships
Nov. 13, 2011
INDIANAPOLIS --- Huddled around a computer at the house of Bulldog distance coach Jeff Pigg, the Georgia men’s cross country team learned on Sunday night that they will have the program’s first chance to run at the NCAA Championships since 2004.
After taking third at the NCAA South Regionals over the weekend, the Bulldogs were alerted on Sunday evening that they had been picked as one of 13 at-large men’s teams for the national meet.
Indiana State will host the Championships, Monday, Nov. 21, at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course located at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind. The men’s race will begin at approximately 12:08 p.m. ET, followed by the women’s race at approximately 12:58 p.m.
A live webcast of the championships will be broadcast from noon to 1:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 21, on NCAA.com. In addition, highlights from the championships will be included as part of the CBS NCAA Fall Seasonal Show scheduled to air on Saturday, Dec. 18 from 1 to 2 p.m. on CBS HD.
“We thought we had figured out on the bus this weekend that we had a good shot at advancing, but learning the news in this setting has been a cool experience,” said Pigg, who hosted the team for a dinner on Sunday night around the NCAA’s announcement time. “We had a strategy going into this season. We knew we needed to go to a meet like the one in Wisconsin and do well and that ended up being a critical part of us advancing to this meet.”
The Bulldogs took 21st at the Wisconsin Invitational in a meet earlier in the season that has been described as the most competitive regular season meet in cross country history. Florida, among other nationally ranked squads, finished behind Georgia in Madison, Wisc.
“We wanted to earn our place at NCAAs with an automatic bid, but at the end of the day, our goal was to get to this meet however we could and we did that,” Pigg said. “You have to credit the hard work of these guys. It takes time to get a team to this level and that’s what makes it so special. It’s been fun to see this team get better and better.”
Florida, who qualified automatically with a second-place finish at Regionals, is the only other team from the Southeastern Conference in the men’s field.
Thirty-one teams were selected to participate in each championship. The top two, seven-person teams automatically qualified from each of the nine regions, for a total of 18 teams. Thirteen additional teams were selected at-large.
Bulldog junior Matt Cleaver had already punched his ticket to the national meet with his performance at the regional meet. Cleaver finished seventh overall and since four of the finishers ahead of him were team members from the automatic qualifying teams of Florida and Florida State, Cleaver was included in the national field.
“This invitation for our team is well-deserved since this is such a dedicated group of guys,” Cleaver said. “We have made countless sacrifices and this is truly a blessing for all of the guys involved. I didn’t want to have to go and run in Indiana all by myself and I definitely think God played a part in us getting this news.”
One of the Bulldogs’ regular scorers this season has been senior J.P. Hackney. After never advancing to the NCAA Championships in his career, the Marietta native is elated about his team’s news in his final year of eligibility.
“We’ve been operating all year under the idea that we were going to this meet and now it’s official,” Hackney said. “We’ve always talked about this goal since getting to Athens and now everything is kind of culminating with this selection. Since I’m a captain, I hope this reflects what kind of leadership I have tried to show.
“This team that is going to Terre Haute is awesome, they are like a family,” Hackney continued. “With perennial powerhouses like Arkansas and Oregon not getting in this year, I think it’s a testament to Coach Pigg’s forethought with our scheduling and to the fact that our administration has backed us with our travel to Wisconsin and Notre Dame this year. I think we had to go to both of those meets to get where we are today.”
The Bulldogs have only been to two other NCAA Championships in the program’s history. Georgia finished 25th at the conclusion of both the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Simon Ngata highlighted the 2004 season by earning All-American honors with a sixth-place finish.
The member from the Georgia men’s team to advance to the NCAA Championships was Ian Burrell in 2006. After matching Cleaver’s seventh-place finish at the NCAA South Regionals, Burrell was the 105th finisher in Terre Haute.
Highlighted by a Bulldog football victory over #24 Auburn and an opening round victory for Georgia at the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships, Hackney noted that this is yet another accolade for the UGA Athletic Association over the weekend.
“This is just a cherry on top of the sundae so to speak,” said Hackney. “It was a great weekend for the Bulldogs and a REALLY great weekend for the Bulldog cross country team.”
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