Nov. 14, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. --- Georgia's cross country teams drove to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday in anticipation for their chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships at Friday's NCAA South Regional Championships.
Both the Georgia men and Lady Bulldogs will be aiming for performances that clinch their second straight trips to the national meet in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23. The men's 10k race at the University of Alabama Harry Pritchett Running Park is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET while the women's 6k is slated to start at 12:15 p.m. on Friday.
"It has been a challenging journey, but most importantly I think we are ready," said distance coach Pat Cunniff, who is in his second season with the Bulldogs after running for Georgia from 1988-91. "Both teams have been training well. I think the men have focused this entire year to get ready for their first 10k and I think the women's team is ready to come together and surprise some people."
Last year, both Georgia teams peaked when the postseason arrived and Cunniff hopes their training will bring similar results in 2013.
"First, a great summer base; second, incredible kids working extremely hard all year; and third, a strong belief in what we are doing and the ability to run on the day that counts are the keys to peaking again at this portion of the year," Cunniff said.
The two top teams from each of the nine regions will automatically advance to the NCAA meet. Individually, the top four finishers who are not on a qualifying team (automatic or at-large) will also 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.
The Bulldog men are ranked second in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region poll behind Florida. Florida State, Auburn and Lipscomb round out the top five, respectively.
On the women's side, Georgia is holding down the No. 9 spot in the poll after not having team leader Carly Hamilton finish the last two meets. Florida State is the top-ranked team in front of Florida, Vanderbilt, Alabama and Tennessee.
Cunniff traveled eight men and eight women. For the men, seniors Luke Baker, Brandon Lord and Charlie Sparks, juniors Brendan Hoban, Zack Sims and Steven Spevacek, sophomore Sid Vaughn and freshman Brad Hort will be representing Georgia on Friday. Hoban, Spevacek, Vaughn and Hort will be making their debut at Regionals.
The Lady Bulldogs included on the team's second postseason trip are seniors Nicole DiMercurio, Stella Christoforou and Savannah Kirk and juniors Carly Hamilton, Bret McDaniel, Erika Ramsey, Marrion Kalafut and Brooke Koblitz. Ramsey and Kalafut will also be making their first appearances at the Regionals.
Six out of the 16 runners who traveled are seniors and Cunniff believes this crew is critical to the teams' success on Friday.
"On both sides, there is a group of seniors who have picked up the torch of the people who built the program," said Cunniff. "They have moved this program forward. This is a tremendous crew who we want to see have spectacular races."
The Georgia men punched their ticket automatically to the 2012 NCAA Championships by taking second with 48 points at last year's South Regionals in Tallahassee, Fla. This marked the second consecutive trip to Nationals for the Bulldogs.
The Lady Bulldogs responded to a sixth-place finish at last year's SEC Championships to surge into third with 115 points at the South Regionals. The Georgia women earned an at-large bid, giving UGA both teams at the NCAA Championships for only the second time in history.
Georgia had two finishers in the top four individually last year as Lord was third in the men's race and Hamilton took fourth in the women's race. A trio of 2012 seniors - Brett Richardson (eight), Brian Detweiler (10th) and Matt Cleaver (12th) - joined current senior Luke Baker (15th) to give the Georgia men its best finish since winning the meet in 2003.
Behind Hamilton in the women's 6k, 2012 senior Morgan VanGorder (19th) finished just ahead of McDaniel (26th) as Leslie Boozer (30th), another senior from last year, and DiMercurio (36th) helped the Georgia women finish seven points ahead of Florida for third, which boosted UGA into the NCAA Championships. The Lady Bulldogs clinched the 2006 Regional title and were second in 2007.
Full results and a recap from Friday's NCAA South Regionals will be located at georgiadogs.com.