Conference championships awaits cross country

Oct. 29, 2009

 

LOS ANGELES – The No. 17 UA women's cross country team will look to prove their best ranking in nearly a decade is no fluke this weekend as the team heads to the Long Beach, Calif. to compete at the 2009 Pacific-10 Conference Championships hosted by the University of Southern California.

 

The women jumped from nowhere to its highest ranking since their 2001 fourth place national finish in the most recent poll released by the USTFCCCA coaches. The ranking comes after the unranked squad headed into Terre Haute two weekends ago as a relative unknown and shocked many with a sixth place finish in their respective race at the NCAA Pre-National Meet and the twelfth best overall team time.

 

The squad looks to Long Beach as a chance to prove the rank is no fluke and move up even further as they work to solidify their NCAA National Championship resume. The team faces off this weekend against some tough conference foes with three other ranked teams in attendance, including the unanimous No. 1 team in the country in the University of Washington.

 

The team has been led to its best season in eight years by a surprisingly young squad where the most senior leader in junior Maggie Callahan. Two returning sophomores in Hanna Henson and Hannah Moen make up the remainder of members returning from last year's squad.

 

The Wildcats ticket to the big time has been their exceptional class of freshmen which includes two High School Footlocker finalists in Lauren Smith and Jennifer Bergman, in-state product Cami Jackson out of Mountain View High School in Phoenix and a multiple-time San Diego Section Champion in Liz Apgar.

 

In each race this season, freshman have finished in three of the five scoring positions for the team and have proven to be the model consistency as they season has progressed.

 

It's really important that the freshmen do well because our team comes in as underdogs,” said Smith. “But we have high expectations for ourselves and we push each other in practice to make sure it happens.”

 

Despite the strength of the youngsters, it is the leadership from Callahan that has helped guide the team thus far. The junior out of Fairbanks, Alaska has been the first Wildcat across the line in each race this season culminating in a career best time at 6000-meters at the Pre-National meet where she finished in 21:06.2 to finish 18th in her section of the race.

 

The mark was 15 seconds better than her previous best time at the distance and its those kind of improvement s that will help push the squad forward.

 

More impressive, perhaps, was the fact that all five members of the team scoring points (Callahan, Smith, Jackson, Henson and Apgar) finished the course in under 22 minutes, giving the team the consistency it has lacked in recent years. Callahan said after the race that it was the kind of race the team was looking for and avoiding the disparity in finishing times is going to be pivotal at a race like the conference championships.

 

We've been doing a lot of work in workouts in staying close together as a pack,” said sophomore Hannah Moen. “If we can continue doing that then we will then there's no doubt that we will make it.”

 

On the men's side, the team is looking to improve upon last years seventh place finish at the same meet a year ago. The team has fought through a slew of injuries through the season and will look for something consistent in a year where a a different member has paced the team in each race this season.

 

Junior Mohamud Ige will look to bounce back from injuries sustained at the Notre Dame Invitational nearly a month ago and senior Dylan Fitzpatrick could also lead the way for the men's squad.

 

The race will cover 8000-meter across the Sky Links Gold Course in Long Beach. The No. 1 and 2 squads in the country in Stanford and Oregon expect to lead the way.

 

The men's squad takes off at 3 p.m. and the women will follow at 4 p.m. A delayed video stream of the event will be available on the Pac-10 website (www.pac-10.org) following the meet.

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