Bulldog Cross Country Aims For NCAA Berths At Regionals
Brett Richardson is one of three senior leaders trying to get Georgia to its second consecutive NCAA Championships.


Brett Richardson is one of three senior leaders trying to get Georgia to its second consecutive NCAA Championships.
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Nov. 8, 2012

ATHENS, Ga. --- Georgia’s cross country teams left on Wednesday for Tallahassee, Fla., as they prepare for Friday’s NCAA South Regional Championships at the Apalachee Regional Park.

The women’s 6k is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. while the gun for the men’s 10k is expected to fire at 9:15 a.m.  This will mark Georgia’s sixth meet of the year as both teams attempt to qualify for the coming NCAA Championships.

Georgia traveled seniors Matt Cleaver, Brian Detweiler and Brett Richardson, juniors Luke Baker, Brandon Lord and Charlie Spark, sophomore Zach Sims and freshman Sid Vaughn from the men’s team.  Seniors Leslie Boozer, Morgan VanGorder and Nicole DiMercurio, juniors Stella Christoforou and Savannah Kirk, sophomores Carly Hamilton, Bret McDaniel and Sarah Perry were the eight members of the Lady Bulldogs who made the trip south.

The two top teams from each of the nine regions will automatically advance to the national meet.  Individually, the top four finishers who are not on a qualifying team (automatic or at-large) will also receive an immediate invitation to the NCAA Championships.  In addition, there will be a number of at-large bids for teams and individuals.

The NCAA Championship races are scheduled at to be run for the first time in history in Louisville, Ky., at the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park on Saturday, Nov. 17.  This breaks a string of eight consecutive NCAA meets in Terre Haute, Ind.

“I'm extremely excited for the next two meets,” said first-year Bulldog coach Patrick Cunniff.  “The men have been focused and dedicated to Regionals and NCAAs since the NCAA Championships last year.  They have done the work and know what it takes to succeed at this level.  Matt Cleaver, Brian Detweiller and Brett Richardson are the heart and soul of this distance program and I know they are all deeply committed to leaving a historic mark before they finish.

“The women have been getting better and more competitive every week.  I think their finish at SECs also really lit a fire, because we saw how close we were to third but also felt the bitterness and disappointment of finishing sixth.  Hopefully, we can draw on that combination of confidence and anger to perfection on Friday.”

The Bulldog men enter Friday’s race ranked 26th nationally and second in the region behind Florida State, who is 23rd in the country.  Florida, East Tennessee State and Georgia Tech are holding down the third, fourth and fifth rankings in the latest region poll.

Georgia’s men’s team grabbed an at-large bid to last year’s NCAA meet after taking third at the South Regionals.  All five last year’s scorers, including Cleaver who was seventh overall at the meet, are in the lineup for the Bulldogs.

“The goal (for the men) is to qualify for NCAAs,” Cunniff said.  “We want to run a strong, steady pace early and then compete hard over the second 5k and lock up a top-two spot and automatically qualify.  We have a great group of seniors and juniors who have run a lot of miles and have a ton of race experience and they are eager for the challenge.”

The Florida State women are ranked No. 1 in the South Region as well as in the country while Florida (14th nationally), Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Georgia, in that order, make up the top five in the region poll.

The Lady Bulldogs took fifth at the 2011 region meet.  This broke a streak of three straight fourth-place finishes.  The Georgia women captured the 2006 NCAA South Regional title and were the runner-ups in 2007, which are also the last two years they advanced to the NCAA Championships (2006-15th; 2007-22nd).

“The women's team is really focused on running their best race and finding a way to upset one of the top three teams in the region,” Cunniff explained.  “We are focused on the process and our own race strategy; but we also hold on to the hope that we can squeak into NCAAs if the Regional goes right.  We know we have another better race in us and we want to bring it out on Friday.  Carly and Morgan seem like strong contenders for individual spots if it comes to that, but I think we are all staying focused on putting together a complete team performance that we can all be proud of.”

A combined five men and women’s teams from the South Region advanced to the 2011 NCAA Championships.  Cunniff understands this year’s competition for a trip to Louisville will be just as fierce.

“FSU is considered the favorite in both races and as we are racing at FSU, brings a home course advantage in on top of that,” said Cunniff.  “I think our men match up well with FSU, but we will also have to respect teams like Florida and East Tennessee that would love to come pull an upset for an automatic qualifying spot.  The women come in ranked fifth, with FSU being ranked first regionally and in the nation followed by three teams we just saw at SECs: Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss.  We respect all those teams and will battle as hard as we can to finish as high as possible.  It's one race for a trip to the NCAA finals and showing up and getting the job done on the day is what it is all about.”

At last year’s meet, Cleaver crossed the finish line in 31:15.5 for seventh place to top three other teammates who finished in the top 25 for All-Region honors.   Lord took 16th in front of Detweiler (21st) and Richardson (23rd) as Baker rounded out the scorers with a 27th-place finish.

The Bulldogs ended up advancing to the NCAA meet thanks in part to a strong regular season showing at the Wisconsin Invitational.  The Georgia men finished 29th at the 2011 NCAA Championships to have the best SEC finish.  The 2003-04 seasons mark the last time the Bulldogs advanced to back-to-back national meets.

Only two scorers return for the Lady Bulldogs.  Boozer was Georgia’s top finisher on the women’s side at last year’s NCAA South Regionals after taking 24th (21:28.1) for All-Region honors.  In her final collegiate meet, Hadley Ferguson was 38th in 2011 while sophomore Anna Bowles was 46th, junior Ashley Shiver was 52nd and VanGorder was 66th.

Full results and a recap from Friday’s NCAA South Regional Championships will be located at georgiadogs.com.

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