Georgia’s cross country starts its 2017 campaign at the Western Carolina Cross Country Festival in Cullowhee, NC, on Saturday morning.
The Lady Bulldogs will run a 3200-meter course at 9:30 a.m. and the Georgia men will follow at 10 a.m. with a 5000m race. Georgia will square off against Emory & Henry College (men/women), Gardner-Webb University (m/w), King University (m/w), Milligan College (m/w), Western Carolina University (m/w) and Brenau University (w).
Senior Addy Lippitt, juniors Hailey Branch, Caroline Dickey, Lauren Hovis, Grace Tavani, sophomores Jessica Drop, Sam Drop, Yanely Gomez, Ansley Heavern, Tiffany Yue and freshmen Millie Bergey and Maddie Heller are traveling for the Georgia women, who are picked to finish sixth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) South Region Preseason Poll.
Seniors Bryan Kamau, Jon Moses, Austin Sprague, Eric Westog, junior Terrell Estime, sophomores Tyler Jones, Jonathan Pelham, Ryan Peppenhorst and redshirt freshmen Jack Bradley, James Gildard, Michael Hans, Davis Stockwell are making the first trip for the Bulldog men. The Bulldogs are picked to finish third in the South Region, which is where they finished the 2016 meet.
“We are excited to get the season started and think this first meet will help us get the ball rolling towards pulling together as a team and preparing for big competitions later in the year,” said Patrick Cunniff, who is starting his sixth year leading his alma mater’s distance program. “Western Carolina gives us a great chance to practice our meet routines and get our competitive juices flowing. We will also be trying to keep our true focus on future success, including at the home meet next week in Athens. We should get the ‘rust knocked off’ on Saturday and hope we come out of the meet healthy and ready to attack the heart of our season.”
Georgia last traveled to Cullowhee for the 2008 Catamount Classic and swept the meet. Natalie Picchetti and Kristie Krueger went 1-2, respectively, to lead the Lady Bulldogs. Ross Ridgewell and Caleb Vogt grabbed the top two spots on the men’s side to highlight UGA’s results.
This is the first of five regular season meets for the Bulldogs. Following Saturday’s showdown, Georgia returns to Athens for the first of two meets at the UGA Golf Course with the Bulldog Southeastern Conference Preview on Saturday, Sept. 9. UGA will race at home again at the SEC Championships on Friday, Oct. 27.
This marks the first time since 2007 that Georgia will host a meet on the UGA Golf Course after utilizing a course around the UGA Equestrian Complex in recent years. The Bulldogs last hosted SECs at the golf course in 2003, a season where the Georgia men and women finished second at the league meet.
The Bulldog men, who were fourth at the SEC Championships last season, feature five senior leaders who Cunniff is hoping can lead the squad. Kamau, who set the pace in all six 2016 meets, headlines the group as Sprague and senior Daniel Navarro area also returning the lineup as All-Region performers last year. The Georgia men last advanced to the NCAA Championships in 2013, which was the third consecutive trip for the Bulldogs.
The Lady Bulldogs, who posted finishes of 10th at SECs and fifth at the Regional, have four seniors on the roster and three of those combined to score 10 times in 2016, including four each for Lippitt and Ragsdale. Jessica Drop led the Georgia women at their first five meets, including an All-SEC Second Team finish of 14th at SECs. Twin sister Sam Drop completed the season as the team’s top finisher after taking 17th at the Regional for All-Region honors. The Lady Bulldogs last earned a shot at the NCAA Championships in 2012.
UGA also has the Paul Short Run (Bethlehem, Pa. – Sept. 29), the Gene Mullin Invitational (Greenville, S.C. – Furman) and the NCAA Pre-Nationals (Louisville, Ky. – Oct. 14) during the regular season. Following SECs in Athens, the Bulldogs will race at the NCAA South Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 10 and then the NCAA Championships in Louisville on Nov. 18.