The Bulldog cross country teams made the trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday in anticipation for Friday’s NCAA South Regional.
When & Where: The 14th-ranked Lady Bulldogs start their 6k course on the Harry Pritchett Running Park course at 10 a.m. ET. The Georgia men, who are ranked seventh in the latest U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region poll, are expected to race in their first 10k of the season at 11 a.m.
The Lady Bulldogs are boasting their third national ranking of the season and first since 2012. This is their top regular-season ranking in history.
Weather: On race day, temperatures are expected to be in the low to mid-50s with sunny skies expected.
Who The Dawgs Are Lining Up: The Lady Bulldogs traveled seniors Addy Lippitt, Lauren Hovis, juniors Hailey Branch, Grace Tavani and sophomores Jessica Drop, Sam Drop, Yanely Gomez, and Ansley Heavern for the South Regional.
The Georgia men had seniors Bryan Kamau, Austin Sprague, Eric Westog, Jon Moses, Terrell Estime, redshirt sophomore Tyler Jones, redshirt freshman Michael Hans and freshman Darr Smith make the trip to the University of Alabama.
What’s At Stake: The NCAA South Regional meet signals the point in the season when Georgia and the other contenders have to finish near the top to continue their 2017 campaigns. The top two teams (each team can compete seven runners and score five) for each gender from each of the nine regions automatically qualify. The top four individuals not on those qualifying teams also automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships.
Additionally, there will be 13 at-large team bids for each gender and two at-large individual bids for each gender.
The Lady Bulldogs are driving for their first trip to the NCAA meet since the 2012 season. The Bulldog men advanced to a school-record three NCAA Championships between 2011-13 and are also in search of a return to Nationals.
The 2010 season marked the last time a Georgia individual earned a ticket to Nationals. Kristie Kruger finished 28th at the NCAA Championships after winning the South Regional title.
Cunniff’s Comments: “The only real difference in preparation for this meet is a strong concentration on recovery,” said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff, who has directed his alma mater’s program since 2012. “Moving fast but also under control and cultivating a positive team mentality are our keys to success. Mileage is down at this point in the season, workout volume is lower and hopefully, everyone is fit and ready.”
The Lady Bulldogs have won three meets this year, surged to a third-place finish at the Paul Short Run and worked together for a runner-up finish at SECs. Now, Cunniff is aiming for the Georgia women to do more of the same.
“The key for the women is to just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he said. “Believing in themselves, concentrating on their own race and running their hearts out for each other.”
The men’s team features five experienced seniors and this corps is prepared for its first longer race of the year.
“We are always eager to race 10ks and no one embraces that more than our seniors,” said Cunniff. “They’ve all done a ton of miles over four or five years and they’ve all seen the guys before then step up on Regional day. Now it’s their turn and they are ready.”
Off The Course Honor: Kamau, who was born in Kenya and grew up in Snellville, Ga., earned one of the Southeastern Conference Co-Scholar-Athlete of the Year awards this week. Kamau has a 3.57 GPA in Financial Planning and has earned a spot on the Dean’s List (3.5 or higher term GPA) and as a Presidential Scholar (4.0 term GPA) during his Bulldog career. In addition, Kamau is a representative on the UGA Athletic Association’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and was named to the 2016 SEC Community Service Team.
Last Time Out: The Bulldogs hosted their second meet in Athens this year during their last time out and this one was the SEC Championships. Continuing on their roll, the Georgia women scored 88 points to finish second at the meet for just the sixth time in history. Jessica and Sam Drop went fourth-fifth, respectively, to lead the charge and earn All-SEC First Team honors. Tavani also broke into the top 20 with an 18th-place showing.
The Bulldog men scored 143 points to take sixth at the UGA Golf Course. Kamau was Georgia’s top finisher for the 11th consecutive time when he has raced (bridging the 2016 season) and earned All-SEC Second Team honors by finishing 12th. Georgia also had three more finishers in the top 32 with senior Austin Sprague taking 21st, senior Eric Westog crossing the line in 29th and redshirt sophomore Tyler Jones managing a 32nd-place finish.
FLASHBACK: 2016 NCAA South Regional: Georgia left Tallahassee, Fla., last year with a pair of top-five team finishes and five All-Region performances. The Bulldog men narrowly missed out on a trip to Nationals with a third-place finish. Kamau (13th) and 2016 senior Sid Vaughn (16th) led the charge while senior Daniel Navarro (20th) and Sprague (24th) also garnered All-Region honors for UGA.
After taking 10th at the 2016 SEC Championships, the Lady Bulldogs posted perhaps their most impressive performance of the season, finishing fifth overall. Sam Drop earned All-Region honors and led her squad for the first time in her career by taking 17th. Jessica Drop was next across the finish line in 33rd while Morgan Ainslie took 48th.
Highlights From The Last Decade (Plus One Year) Of Regionals: Georgia has collected a pair of NCAA South Regional titles since 2006. The Lady Bulldogs captured the 2006 crown and were then 15th at the NCAA Championships. The UGA men edged Florida by one point to claim the 2013 title in Tuscaloosa.
Individually, Kristie Krueger (2010) has tallied a Regional championship for the program. Jill Steffens (third) and Kristin Heffelfinger (fourth), Natalie Picchetti (sixth) and Sarah Madebach (seventh) were the driving forces for the 2006 team title. On the men’s side, Ian Burrell was seventh in 2006 before qualifying for the NCAA Championships as an individual. Then in 2007, Picchetti and Madebach switched places and took seventh and sixth as their team was the runner-up.
Brandon Lord and his third-place finish in 2012 propelled the team to a second-place finish while Carly Hamilton was fourth that year and helped the Georgia women take third. At the 2013 meet, Luke Baker took fourth and Lord (seventh) and Charlie Sparks (10th) also made it into the top 10 to put the Bulldogs atop the podium.
Glimpse At The Rest Of 2017: If one of the Georgia teams or individuals qualify for Nationals, those qualified Bulldogs will then prepare for the NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 18.