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Nov. 16, 2012
ATHENS, Ga. --- For only the second time in school history, both of Georgia's cross country teams will be competing together at the NCAA Championships as the races are scheduled to start in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday afternoon.
The 28th-ranked Lady Bulldogs will start the day with a 6k race at noon around the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park. The 27th-ranked men will face 30 other teams on the 10k course at 1:15 p.m. This is the second time in school history both Georgia cross country teams have advanced to the same NCAA Championships (2004).
The Bulldog men automatically clinched their spot at the NCAA Championships by taking second at the NCAA South Regional Championships in Tallahassee on Nov. 9. Seniors Matt Cleaver, Brian Detweiler and Brett Richardson, juniors Luke Baker, Brandon Lord and Charlie Sparks, sophomore Zack Sims and freshman Sid Vaughn all traveled to Kentucky on Thursday in preparation for this weekend's meet.
The Georgia women earned an at-large bid to the NCAA meet after topping Florida and 25 other teams for third place at the South Regionals. Sophomore Carly Hamilton, who has led her team for five meets in a row, joins seniors Leslie Boozer and Morgan VanGorder, juniors Nicole DiMercurio and Savannah Kirk, sophomores Stella Christoforou and Bret McDaniel and freshman Sarah Perry in the first trip to the NCAA Championships for the women's team in the last five years.
"I am really excited to get to the course and see what our teams can do," said first-year Bulldog coach Patrick Cunniff. "Arkansas is the only other SEC team to have both squads going to nationals so this is an honor. I think there are only 14 or 15 teams in the whole country that had both teams advance so this is a true accomplishment. It's a testament to what a great group of kids we have right now."
This will be the fourth time the Bulldog men have advanced to the NCAA Championships. After topping the rest of the SEC with a 29th-place finish in 2011, Georgia also posted back-to-back appearances in 2003 and 2004. The Bulldogs were 25th during both of their first two trips.
"This group of runners on the men's team this year just get it," Cunniff said. "In the summer, they knew they had to do the work and they did it. They understood what challenges were coming during the season and they stayed together as a group and overcame those. Our team has a great camaraderie and a shared sense of purpose.
"I think Charlie Sparks coming back and finishing 21st at Regionals truly shows how deep we are and what we are capable of. The seniors have set the tone this year and we knew Brandon Lord had a performance in him like the one he had at Regionals. It gives us an extra level of confidence to know that any one of our guys could lead the group."
The Lady Bulldogs will be making their eighth appearance at the national meet, but first since 2004. Georgia was ninth at the 1990 NCAA meet while also competing in 1991, 1997 and in four consecutive meets from 2004 to 2007. The Lady Bulldogs were 22nd when they traveled to Terre Haute, Ind., in 2007 as Natalie Picchetti returned to Athens with All-America honors.
"Morgan and Leslie set a tone for this team around the first of August," said Cunniff, who took over the job at Georgia late in the summer after Jeff Pigg left to direct North Florida's track and field and cross country program. "They came to me right when I took over and said they wanted the women's team to be serious and to have high goals. I think those two and others on the team made the necessary adjustments to get us to this level of performance. They have inspired the other girls who have really come through for us this season."
The Lady Bulldogs learned that they had qualified for the NCAA Championships a day after their finish at Regionals. Cunniff said his team made "the miracle" come true.
"More than satisfaction for this team, it was elation when we heard the word that we were in the meet," Cunniff explained. "I kind of jokingly used the phrase `make the miracle' and we built on the fact that it could really come true. To see our dream come true of making it to the NCAA Championships was just a nice treat for these girls who have worked so hard. Now, we want to continue to work toward our goal of having success at nationals."
Hamilton has posted back-to-back fourth-place finishes at SECs and Regionals and Cunniff is pleased how the sophomore from Springboro, Ohio, has progressed.
"Carly has been fantastic, particularly the last two weeks," said Cunniff. "Anyone who knows her knows that the talent is there. She just got a sense of how to adjust to a 6k so we were able to give her some things to concentrate early on in the last two races before turning her loose later in the race so she could run to her ability."
The Georgia men are returning five of the seven competitors who ran at last year's NCAA meet and four of the five scorers. Cleaver, who is a two-time SEC steeplechase champion on the track, topped the crew in 2011 after taking 142nd (31:08.5). Detweiler (187th) and Baker (195th) were the next two scorers as Lord took 206th to also put points on the scoreboard for UGA.
This will be the first trip to the NCAA Championships for any of the eight Lady Bulldogs traveling. Besides this year's third-place finish at the NCAA South Regionals, the best finish this group of Georgia runners has posted at Regionals was fourth in 2010.
Full results and a recap from the NCAA Cross Country Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.