The Bulldogs have advanced to their third straight NCAA Championships.
Nov. 22, 2013
ATHENS, Ga. --- The Georgia men headed north to Terre Haute, Ind., on Thursday in preparation for their third consecutive NCAA Cross Country Championships, which arrive on Saturday at the Lavern Gibson Championship Course.
With temperatures expected to be hovering just above freezing along with 20 mph winds, the Bulldogs will compete in the 10k race at noon versus 30 more of the nation’s top squads. Indiana State is hosting the meet for the 10th time in the last 13 years.
Last year, Georgia accomplished a feat that the program had only accomplished once before in advancing to back-to-back NCAA meets. This year, the Bulldogs have advanced to their third consecutive Nationals for the first time in school history.
“We had pointed all year to running very well at Regionals to get us to Nationals and then going to Nationals to prove that we are one of the best teams in the country,” said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff, who was recently named the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region Men’s Coach of the Year. “All of our high-mileage, high-tempo training has been geared toward this weekend so we have a lot of confidence going into the meet. We are excited from last weekend’s meet still and pulling that into the NCAA Championships should set us up very well.”
Georgia traveled eight men for Saturday’s meet. Seniors Luke Baker, Brandon Lord and Charlie Sparks, juniors Brendan Hoban, Zack Sims and Steven Spevacek, sophomore Sid Vaughn and freshman Morgan Malanoski will be representing UGA. Hoban, Spevacek, Sims and Malanoski will be making their debut at Nationals.
Cunniff has been impressed by the leadership of his three seniors.
“It’s a great accomplishment for this group of seniors to have been to three straight NCAA Championships and it’s a sign of how this program is building,” Cunniff said. “All three seniors have worked hard their whole career, they have committed to this sport and have actively helped us build this program. And all that aside, they show up on the day. For all three of them to be in the top 10 at Regionals and now shooting for top finishes at the NCAA meet just speaks volumes about what great guys they are.”
Since the Bulldogs are now a regular at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, Cunniff is ready for his team to show the field that they belong.
“We are looking to run as well as we ever have,” explained Cunniff. “We want to put our best race of the whole year out there and to continue to move this program forward. There is a sense that we are one of the weaker teams in the field and we feel just the opposite. We know we are a team that is coming on at the right time and a team that is built for a 10k. We are going there with a chip on our shoulders and are determined to go out there and show everyone that we are a lot better than people think.”
Georgia qualified for the meet by winning the program’s second South Regional title in history on Nov. 15 in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Bulldogs are one of only five men and women’s teams from the Southeastern Conference who advanced to the NCAA Championships. Arkansas and Florida, who the Bulldogs edged by a point for the Regional title, join Georgia on the men’s side while Arkansas and Vanderbilt will represent the league on the women’s side.
The Bulldogs earned their first spot in the national polls this week, holding down the 29th spot. Northern Arizona, Oklahoma State, Colorado, Stanford and Oregon make up the top five, respectively, in the latest USTFCCCA poll. Georgia edged the Ducks by six points last year to earn its historic 19th-place finish.
The Bulldogs finished a program-best 19th with 466 points at the 2012 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky. Following a runner-up finish at the NCAA South Regionals, Georgia was the second SEC team to finish at NCAAs with its top finisher (Brett Richardson) taking 96th and its five scorers averaging out at 119th place. This marked the Bulldogs’ second consecutive trip to Nationals after taking 29th in 2011.
Richardson led the Bulldog pack after clocking a 30:41.1 for 96th place, which scored 73 points. Lord was the second scorer in 107th place with a 30:49.3. Baker followed five seconds behind Lord to take 120th (30:54.7). Finishing exactly a second behind Baker was Brian Detweiler, who was 121st at 30:55.7.
A third 2012 senior in addition to Richardson and Detweiler was Matt Cleaver. Cleaver, who was a two-time SEC 3000-meter steeplechase champion, managed a 155th-place finish after crossing the finish line in 31:09.1.
In addition to Lord and Baker’s finishes last year, the senior duo both competed at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Baker scored two years ago with a 195th-place finish while Lord was also in Georgia’s top five, taking 206th. In 2012, Sparks was sixth for the Bulldogs in 172nd place and Vaughn managed a 212th-place finish as a true freshman.
This marks Georgia’s fifth trip to the NCAA Championships. Highlighted by last year’s 19th-place finish, the Bulldogs advanced in 2011 (29th), 2004 (25th) and 2003 (25th).
Full results and a recap from Saturday’s NCAA Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.