Men's Cross Country Team Returns Five of Its Top Six Runners From Last Season

Aug. 31, 2004

In a quest to improve on last season's seventh-place finishes at both the NCAA West Region and Pac-10 Championships, the Bruin men's team returns five of its top six runners from last season and will be led by three seniors - Erik Emilsson, Jon Rankin and Ben Aragon.

Last fall, Emilsson automatically qualified for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, placing 98th (30:52.7). He led the Bruins at the NCAA West Region (17th, 30:13, All-Regional) and was UCLA's No. 3 runner (36th, 26:06.4) at the Pac-10. In 2002-03, Emilsson in cross country was UCLA's No. 1 finisher at both the NCAA West Region (34th, 31:49) and Pac-10 (24th, 24:47) meets. In outdoor track, he qualified to the NCAA in the 3000mSC (24thQ, 8:56.59) and was third (8:58.18) at the Pac-10. Emilsson's personal-best 8:47.08 (2004) is No. 5 in school history. A transfer from Tulane, he missed last spring's track schedule with a shoulder injury (that required surgery).

Rankin in cross country last fall, was the Bruins' No. 2 runner at both the NCAA West Region (24th, 30:23, All-Region) and Pac-10 (25th, 25:51.2). In outdoor track last spring, he qualified to the NCAA in the 1500m (13thQ,3:47.75), placed fifth (3:46.02) at the West Region and at the Pac-10, was second (personal-best 1:48.77) in the 800m and fourth (3:44.53) in the 1500m. At the 2004 NCAA Indoor, he ran on UCLA's DMR (12th, 9:49.53, first leg). The 2001 U. S. Junior 1500m champion, Rankin has a personal-best of 3:43.10.

In 2003 cross country, Aragon placed 54th (31:04) at the NCAA West Region and 46th (26:32.1) at the Pac-10. Last spring in Outdoor track, he qualified to the NCAA Championships in the 1500m (16thQ, 3:48.10), placed fourth (3:45.37) at the West Region and at the Pac-10, won the 800m (personal-best 1:48.45) and finished third (3:44.16) in the 1500m. At the NCAA Indoor, he qualified in the mile (11thQ, 4:04.42) and ran on UCLA's DMR. A tough runner, in UCLA's 2003 dual meet victory at USC, Aragon won three events - 800m, 1500m, 5000m. The school record-holder in the indoor mile (4:00.38), his personal-bests are 1:48.45 (800m) and 3:43.45 (1500m).

'These three athletes have been the core of our men's distance team for the last two to three years,' said fifth-year head coach Eric Peterson. 'They know what it takes to succeed. Our team is going to rally around Erik, Jon and Ben and look to this trio for leadership and inspiration.'

Also returning from last year are top runners, sophomore Austin Ramos and junior Mohammed Qazi. Last fall in cross country as a true freshman, Ramos led the Bruins in four regular season meets, including a first-place finish (5:13/5k) at the Big Wave Invitational in Honolulu, HI. Ramos was UCLA's top runner at the Pac-10 Championships (22nd, 25:43.4) and was UCLA No. 3 runner (26th, 30.24) at the West Region. Qazi was UCLA's No. 6 runner at both the Pac-10 (60th, 27:11.7) and West Region (66th, 31.23) meets.

The Bruins also return Pac-10 meet experience from three other runners - juniors, Nick De Felice and Martell Munguia, and sophomore Micky Cobrin. Also on hand is senior Nick Thornton, who for the last two years has been an 800m qualifier to the NCAA Outdoor, with a personal-best of 1:48.01 (No. 7 in school history).

'The goal of this team is to improve on last year's performances at the West Region and Pac-10 meets,' Peterson said. 'Not only do we return three veteran seniors, but we also have a pack of runners who have experience at the region and conference levels. We will be a veteran squad, working hard for a successful season.'

Adding to UCLA's depth will be a talented incoming freshman class, led by Mike Haddan and Kyle Shackelton. Haddan, from Woodbridge HS in Irvine, finished third at the CA State meet for the past two years in the 800m (1:51.79,2003/1:53.03,2004) after winning the State crown as a sophomore (1:51.41). K. Shackelton, whose twin brother Drew will also be an incoming Bruin freshman, finished sixth in the 3200m (9:17.03) at the 2004 CA State meet and was ranked No. 6 in the State in the 3200m (9:05.36).

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