Eight Pac-12 cross country teams head to NCAAs

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WHAT: 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships
WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013
WHERE: Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, Terre Haute, Ind. (Hosted by Indiana State University)

Men’s race: 12 p.m. ET/9 a.m. PT // Women’s race: 1:15 p.m. ET/ 10:15 a.m. PT

A combined eight Pac-12 teams are headed to Terre Haute, Ind., for the 2013 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 23. It is the first national championship of the season up for grab of the season. With the Conference leading the country in all-time team national titles, NCAA Championships has been where Pac-12 teams have risen to the top.

On the men’s side, three teams and one individual will represent the Pac-12 in Terre Haute. COLORADO, OREGON and STANFORD all earned automatic bids after finishing in the top two of their respective regional meets. The Cardinal completed the three-peat at the NCAA West Region race, claiming the top prize in the men’s competition. It was also Stanford’s fourth regional title in five years, after placing two runners in the top three of the event. The Cardinal’s Chris Miltenberg was also selected the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s (USTFCCCA) West Region Men’s Coach of the Year.

The Ducks are anchored by freshman sensation Edward Cheserek who was named the USTFCCCA’s West Region Male Athlete of the Year. He won the individual regional crown while UO placed second in the team standings to earn an automatic bid. Cheserek is also the Pac-12 individual champion, the first Oregon Duck to win the title as a freshman.

Colorado went into the Mountain Regional competition ranked No. 1 in the country but were edged by Northern Arizona, 61-69, but still earned an automatic bid after coming in second place at the regional race. The Buffs won a third-straight Pac-12 crown after placing five runners in the top 10.

The three men’s squads going into the national meet ranked in the USTFCCCA top-30, more specifically, in the top five. Colorado leads the way with a No. 3 national ranking, with Stanford following at No. 4 and Oregon at No. 5.

Individually, WASHINGTON’s Aaron Nelson will be challenging for the individual crown. He earned an at-large bid after placing third at the West Region meet. He was also eighth at the Pac-12 Championships.

Missing from the competition is ARIZONA’s Lawi Lalang, who would have been a strong contender for the individual crown. Lalang was the 2011 NCAA individual champion and was third at last year’s race. He is also a two-time Pac-12 Champion, having won the title in 2011 and 2012. But Lalang has been battling injuries and did not compete at the Conference nor regional meet, so he is not eligible to run at the national meet.

The women’s Pac-12 contingent is, again, a strong one and any one of the five teams could vie for the crown in Terre Haute. OREGON is the defending national champion, winning its first title last year since 1995.

But the Ducks have a tough challenge just from Conference rivals. ARIZONA is having a Cinderella season, having achieved its first-ever No. 1 national ranking, which it held for several weeks. The Wildcats claimed their first-ever Conference women’s crown, then went on to win the NCAA West Region title. The UA women are still unbeaten heading into the final race of the year and are ranked second in the latest poll. UA is led by West Region Women’s Coach of the Year James Li.

Colorado head coach Mark Wetmore also received regional recognition and was named Mountain Region Women’s Coach of the Year after the Buffs claimed the regional crown in a dominant performance that had every runner place in the top 15. After that win, the Buffs jumped from 10th in the poll to No. 5.

No. 12 STANFORD finished just behind Arizona in the west regional to claim the automatic bid. The Cardinal are led by Aisling Cuffe who was third at the regional meet, but was coming off an individual victory at the Pac-12 Championships.

The Ducks rank 17th in the country, while WASHINGTON is No. 20. Both teams have a storied history at the national meet. UO received an at-large bid after coming in third place at the regional competition, while the Huskies placed fifth. The Ducks have had a lot to overcome with the loss of Jordan Hasay, won of the most decorated cross country athletes in Pac-12 history and a top-three finisher in the nation meet in each of her last three seasons. UO’s top four finishers at the West regional consisted of three sophomores and a freshman.

The Huskies have had recent success at the national meet, as well, earning top-three finishes in three of the last five years, including a win in 2008. In five of the last six year, UW has placed in the top 10, as well. Senior Katie Flood is having a solid season and is just two years removed from a seventh-place finish at the 2011 race and is looking for another strong outing to lead the team.

Individually, UTAH’s Rebekah Winterton qualified out of the Mountain Regional, placing 10th at that race. West Region at-large representatives Kelsey Santisteban is making her third-straight appearance at the national meet, while ARIZONA STATE’s Shelby Houlihan also earned a bid and will also challenge for the individual crown after finishing second at the west regional competition.

In order to be eligible to participate in the championships, teams and individuals qualified in their respective regional competitions. Thirty-one teams were selected to participate in each championship. The top two, seven-person teams automatically qualified from each of the nine regions, for a total of 18 teams. Thirteen additional teams were selected at-large. Thirty-eight individuals were also selected to participate in each championship through an automatic qualifier and at-large selection process. All individual qualifiers finished in the top 25 in their region.

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