UCLA Men's Cross Country Earns At-Large Bid to Compete at NCAA Championships
Nov. 12, 2006
The UCLA men's cross country team will compete in the NCAA Championships for the first time in 26 years after having received an at-large team bid on Sunday. The team, which finished sixth at the West Region Championships on Saturday, was one of nine teams from the Western Region to earn a spot at Nationals, the most by any region this season.
'It is just so great that this team was the one to qualify,' said Cross Country Coach Eric Peterson. 'I say it that way because the decision over the summer of redshirting Austin Ramos (a 2005 cross country All-American) had the potential of putting this team at a disadvantage. Without him, you are looking at a very young and relatively inexperienced team faced with the challege of improving on last year's results. These guys have been awesome all season long. Right from the beginning there was confidence and a self-assurance that we were going to be fine without Austin running and we were going to be successful.
'Kyle Shackleton deserves a tremendous amount of credit for being this team's strongest stabilizing force from the very first practice to the West Region yesterday.
'The improvement of Laef Barnes and Drew Shackleton has made a tremendous impact on the competitiveness of this team. Mike Haddan's contribution has been huge as well. In the past, he's been inconsistent, and although this season he hasn't yet had that great day, he's been consisitently good from start to finish.
'It's a theme we preach, and ask all of our athletes at a young age, to buy into and sign up for - Develop consistentcy in training, lifestyle and performance before we start looking at great performances. I think these guys have been very good about listening to that message and applying it to their lives and training.'
Since the last time the Bruins competed at the National meet as a team (1985), not a single runner that competed at the West Regional meet had even been born.
'That's not necessarily something we are proud of, but it does indicate how significant this accomplishment is for everyone involved,' added Peterson.
For Peterson, the accomplishment is monumental, after having success taking the women's team to the National Championships in six of the last eight years, the men's team is finally heading in the right direction. Last season, the men finished seventh at Pac-10's and 13th at the West Region meet, and this season, his teams have moved up to fifth at the conference meet and sixth at the regional.
'It's a great feeling on a personal level,' added Peterson. I have the respsonisbility of preparing a team to put themselves in the best position possible at the most critical time, and I think that this team demonstrated that very well yesterday. These guys will forever be bonded together because of the history they made on Saturday.'
The last time UCLA competed as a team at Nationals, Bob Larsen, one of the most prominent distance coaches in America, led the team to a 12th-place finish. Peterson believes that Larsen deserves some of the credit for this year's team.
'I have a lot of respect for Bob Larsen, not only as a mentor, but as a close friend. He has had an impact on my life and my career and he deserves credit and thanks for this result as well.
'The men's program is validated in that we are heading in the right direction and we are moving toward a point in time where we can become consistently competitive at the national level.
'The Western Region was one of the most competitive in recent years, and I'm so proud as a coach to have the opportunity to run against the teams in this region that are well-coached and well-prepared for this Championship. Nine teams were given bids to the NCAA Championships and that's a huge number, maybe even a record. We knew as a region we were strong and competitive and felt that we did a great job of competing well outside of our intra-regional competition. We benefit from this association and have the opportunity to participate and compete against some of the strongest distance running programs in America, specifically in the Pac-10,. Out of the eight teams that are in the Pac-10 Conference, only two did not get bids to Nationals.'
The Southeast and Great Lakes Region both had four schools earn bids to the National Championships, while the West Region had nine schools received bids. Earning bids from the West Region were Oregon and Stanford with the automatic spots. Arizona, Cal Poly SLO, Portland, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, Washington and Washington State were at-large selections.