ATHENS, Ga. --- With an NCAA South Regional title already in hand, the Georgia women's cross country team, along with senior Ian Burrell, travel to Terre Haute, Ind., this weekend for the 2006 NCAA Championships on Monday, Nov. 20.
Georgia cross country coach Dave Hartman believes his 15th-ranked Lady Bulldogs, who began the year ranked 27th, have yet to register a top performance as a squad this season and does not know why that performance should not come at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on Monday.
"We have a lot of momentum going into the NCAA Championships," Hartman said.
"All year long, we have not put together our best team race. We had girls who did not finish at Notre Dame (Sept. 29) and Pre-Nationals (Oct. 14) and I think we seemed a bit flat at the SEC Championships. I think at Regionals, the girls started to feel the effects of some speed work and they are gaining confidence in their racing. We still held a little back at Regionals and ran conservative races."
The Lady Bulldogs claimed Georgia's first women's region championship in school history in Knoxville, Tenn., on Nov. 11. Beating second-place Florida by an overwhelming margin (35-70), the Lady Bulldogs had five finishers earn All-Region honors after taking 15th place or better. While senior Jill Steffens locked down third place with an impressive 21:17.8, Kristin Heffelfinger took fourth (21:24.7), junior Natalie Picchetti managed a sixth-place finish (21:31.2), junior Sarah Madebach finished seventh
(21:31.8) and junior Kiah Vernon battled for 15th (21:48.2) as Georgia sprinted away with the title.
Hartman said he would rather a strong performance by the team than one or two exceptional performances at Monday's event.
"The big thing is to have at least five girls run good, not great, but just what they are capable of," Hartman said. "We have higher aspirations than top 15 though. I think all of the girls on the team are ready to have their best races of the year. It would be nice to see our veterans up front (seniors Steffens and Heffelfinger) achieve All-American status, but the goal all along has been team success."
Burrell was the only member from the men's team to advance to NCAAs. After clocking a 31:15.7 for seventh place and All-Region accolades at the South Regional meet, Burrell was one of four individual performers nationwide who qualified for the NCAA Championships without being on a team that qualified.
Burrell has been Georgia's top finisher in all four meets he has competed in this season, including a fourth-place mark at the Auburn Invitational.
"Ian's goal all year long has been to be an All-American," said Hartman about Burrell, who has been hampered by allergy-related breathing problems.
"If he can breathe normally then I believe that a top-25 finish is in his cards. Ian has been waiting for a breakthrough race all year long. His workouts indicate that he is ready for a huge race. Monday is going to be a great day for Ian."
Burrell has already chalked up All-SEC honors for the second year in a row this season. In Baton Rouge on Oct. 28, Burrell finished 13th overall
(24:35.83) and helped lead his team to a fifth-place conference finish.
Both Georgia teams have already run on this particular course once this season. At the NCAA Pre-Nationals on Oct. 14, the Lady Bulldogs broke into the top 10 with a 10th-place finish thanks in large part to Heffelfinger, who finished 17th overall (20:38). The Georgia women also had three others finishers in the top 40 (Steffens 19th, Picchetti 27th, S. Madebach
39th) as North Carolina State notched the team win.
On the men's side, Burrell took 22nd (24:06.9) to lead the Bulldogs to a 25th-place finish. The second Georgia runner to cross the finish line was Matt Goodale, who transferred from High Point University before the season and finished 107th overall (24:54.3).
Hartman and his team members leave Athens on Saturday morning and will be battling against the nation's top teams and individuals at noon (women 6K) and at 1:15 p.m. (men 10K).
Georgia's finishers at the 2005 NCAA Championships
|Place. MEN Time || Place. WOMEN Time|
| 70th Ian Burrell - 30:43.5|| 114th Kiah Vernon - 21:15.5|
| || 121st Jill Steffens - 21:18.3|
| || 189th Lauren Burks - 21:56.9|
| || 194th Sarah Madebach 21:59.1|
| || 241st Rebekah Madebach 23:09.1|
| || 252nd Nicole DeMarco 23:42.7|