Georgia Cross Country Set To Compete Versus Nation's Best At NCAAs
Junior Matt Cleaver is hoping the Bulldogs are looking behind them on Monday to check out the competition's status.

Junior Matt Cleaver is hoping the Bulldogs are looking behind them on Monday to check out the competition's status.
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Nov. 20, 2011

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. --- Seven cross country regular seasons had passed since the Georgia men’s team had been invited to travel more than 500 miles to the northwest of Athens, Ga., to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships.

But on Nov. 13, Bulldog distance coach Jeff Pigg, with his team and his family huddled around him at his home, got the news that Georgia had again been included in the 31-team national field that will compete in Terre Haute, Ind., for the national crown on Monday.

And from Pigg’s message, the Bulldogs are not just satisfied with showing up – they want to battle the best of the best for the top honor.

“For our guys, we’re not just trying to get to the starting line, we want to get to the finish line and cross it,” said Pigg, whose teams traveled to Indiana early Saturday morning.  “We certainly want that last meet of the year to have a good feel to it.  These guys have passed the point of just wanting to get to (the NCAA Championships).”

Indiana State will host the Championships, Monday, Nov. 21, at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course located at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center.  The men’s 10k race will begin at approximately 12:08 p.m. ET, followed by the women’s 6k race at approximately 12:58 p.m.

A live webcast of the Championships will be broadcast from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Monday 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.

Georgia features only a single senior on its seven-man traveling squad.  J.P. Hackney, a team captain who will be wrapping up his cross career at this meet, joins juniors Matt Cleaver, Brett Richardson, Nick Long and Brian Detweiler along with sophomores Brandon Lord and Luke Baker.

After taking third at the NCAA South Regionals behind automatic qualifiers Florida State and Florida, the Bulldogs were alerted the next day that they had been picked as one of 13 at-large men’s teams across the country for the national meet.

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 and 13 additional teams were selected at-large.

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.

He was one of four All-Region performers as Lord (16th), Detweiler (21st) and Richardson (23rd) also all finished in the top 25 at the South Regionals.

With the Bulldogs taking third behind conference champion Arkansas and Florida at the SEC meet and then third again at the Regionals, Georgia had to bank on their early-season performances pushing them into the NCAA field.

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.  The Gators, among other nationally ranked squads, finished behind Georgia in Madison, Wisc.

Two weeks before the Wisconsin meet, the Bulldogs made the trip to South Bend, Ind., and posted another convincing performance against some of the country’s top talent at the Notre Dame Invitational.

“This meet is different than say the NCAA Tournament in basketball because this is everyone at once, a lights-out type of situation,” explained Pigg, whose team will be competing in the season’s final meet while perennial powerhouses Arkansas and Oregon watch from home.  “I’m looking forward to see how we stack up.  Our guys aren’t in awe of anyone thanks to the level of meets we have run in this season so it’s a great opportunity for them.”

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 overall 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.

A recap and full results from the NCAA Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.

Other quotes for the Bulldog cross country team:

Senior captain J.P. Hackney:

On being a captain for a Bulldog team that will be competing in its first NCAA Championships since 2004 – “Everyone is a leader on this team and everyone kind of accounts for themselves.  Being a leader on a cross country team is like nothing else.  Everyone is doing the work on their own and I’m just kind of double-checking that things are on track – and usually they are.  It’s been interesting since I haven’t been the No. 1 performer on the team so it brings a different element when the leadership comes in more of an un-athletic way, so to speak.  It’s a testament to the respect of this team that they have tried to follow my lead.  Everyone has contributed to this team coming together and galvanizing perfectly.”

On finally getting his shot at NCAAs in his fourth and final season – “This is kind of like a completion of a four-year project.  When I got here, we were eighth at SECs and 12th at Regionals and that’s not something we are proud of.  Everyone has worked to be the best they can since that point and I think we have a great mix of young talent and veterans.  I’m confident that guys like Luke Baker and Brandon Lord will continue to build the type of character that this team has.  There are plenty of people on this team to carry on the torch once us seniors are gone.”

Sophomore Brandon Lord:

On having this type of season in just his second season and what it will mean for this program in the future – “I came to the University of Georgia with the goal of trying to help a group of guys get to where they haven’t been before and I think that is happening this year, with the help of a ton of guys.  All season we have had the goal in mind of getting to the NCAA Championships, we have it written in the locker room.  At Regionals, we wanted to have a 22 team average, which would mean our five guys would score around 110 points.  Well, we scored 94 and now we are excited about continuing our success.  If the Wisconsin meet is any indication of how we will match up in a competitive field, we should be good to go.  Getting this opportunity means a lot of us for all of our hard work that we have put in.”

On how the Bulldogs’ performances at the Wisconsin Invitational and Notre Dame Invitational helped punch Georgia’s ticket to the NCAA Championships – “Without Wisconsin and Notre Dame, we wouldn’t be going to NCAAs.  Since we were third at Regionals, we had to have proved ourselves elsewhere to get invited.  At Wisconsin, we had four head-to-head wins over teams going to NCAAs so I think that helped push us over the edge.  We owe it to Coach Pigg and to the athletic administration who put us in the position to travel to those meets and the opportunity to succeed.  Now, we have to go out and make them proud.”

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