In their final regular season meet of the year, the 25th-ranked Lady Bulldog cross country team battled for a sixth-place finish in a NCAA Pre-Nationals that featured a number of the nation’s top 30 in Louisville, KY, on Saturday.
The Georgia women scored 236 points to finish behind second-ranked Oregon (63), top-ranked Colorado (91), ninth-ranked Arkansas (148), 19th-ranked Utah State (214) and fourth-ranked Michigan (235) on the 6k course. The Lady Bulldogs topped 12th-ranked Ole Miss and 16th-ranked BYU at the E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park and improved on their 45th-place finish from the 2015 meet.
The Bulldog men finished 17th (533) on their 8k course, improving on their 35th-place finish at the meet two years ago. A pair of Georgia seniors finished in the top 70 individually in the 215-man field to highlight the teams’ final regular season meet.
“The women had another tremendous finish and showed where they stack up versus some of the nation’s best,” said Bulldog distance coach Patrick Cunniff. “I could not be more proud of how this team has strung together a series of impressive performances and have not gotten thrown off by the location of the meet or size of the field. Sam and Jessica Drop continue to hang among the country’s elite and Hailey (Branch), Grace (Tavani) and Addy (Lippitt) stepped it up and moved well in the pack when we needed them to.
“The guys are still battling to establish themselves. I was pleased that (Bryan) Kamau and (Eric) Westog maneuvered through the crowd and hopefully they and the rest of the men’s team will continue to improve through the postseason.”
Sophomore Sam Drop was the top finisher for the Georgia women for the first time since the 2016 NCAA South Regional. In fact, Sam and her twin sister Jessica have led the Lady Bulldogs in all 10 of the meets they have raced in over the last two years. On Saturday, Sam Drop ran a 20:06.4 to take 13th and be the second Southeastern Conference finisher.
One spot and two seconds behind Sam was her sister Jessica. After being the fastest finisher in Georgia’s first three meets (all top-three finishes including two victories), Jessica crossed the finish line in 20:08.2 to take 14th.
The Lady Bulldogs’ final three scorers finished between 64th and 82nd place in the 288-woman field. While usual scorer sophomore Yanely Gomez rested in preparation for the postseason, junior Hailey Branch stepped up to register a 20:51.1 for 64th place.
Scoring in all three of the first meets, junior Grace Tavani took 73rd with a 20:75.0 and senior Addy Lippitt managed a 72nd-place finish after completing her laps in 21:02.0.
On the men’s side, senior Bryan Kamau led Georgia for the 10th time in his last 10 races. He finished 128th in 2015 as a sophomore and improved to 46th this year after running a time of 23:57.1.
Fellow senior Eric Westog bettered his No. 3 scoring spot for the Bulldogs where he had been during the opening three meets and was second across the line for Georgia in Louisville. He ran a 24:15.7 to finish 70th place.
A third senior, Austin Sprague, finished 107th in the final preparation for the postseason with a 24:33.2. Redshirt sophomore Tyler Jones pushed his scoring streak to his last three meets with a 143rd-place finish (24:49.7).
Senior Jon Moses rounded out the scorers for the Bulldogs after taking 184th. He ran a 25:10.7 on a course the Bulldogs are aiming to return to in November for the NCAA Championships.
Georgia will now ready for the SEC Championships in Athens at the UGA Golf Course on Friday, Oct. 27. The Bulldogs will then race at the NCAA South Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 10 and then prepare for the NCAA Championships at Louisville on Nov. 18.