Record number Pac-12 teams head to NCAA Championships

Ashley Davis/Pac-12 Conference

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Seven men’s teams, a Pac-12 record, and five women’s teams are heading to the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky., on Saturday, Nov. 21. The COLORADO men headline the teams headed to the championship, as the two-time defending champion.

A Conference-record seven men’s teams will be participating at the NCAA Championships. The No. 1 Buffs are the overwhelming favorite with plenty of veteran experience. Colorado is expected to field four runners with championship experience. The Buffs are coming off a win at the NCAA Mountain Regional which came after they claimed a fifth-consecutive Pac-12 title. CU has never lost the men’s Conference meet since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.

 OREGON junior Edward Cheserek will be going for an unprecedented third-consecutive individual crown. He has already won a Conference-record three-straight Pac-12 titles and also became just the third person in league history two win three titles in a career, joining former greats Steve Prefontaine and Henry Rono.

The Ducks were third at the NCAA West Regional, finishing behind WASHINGTON and STANFORD. The 11th-ranked Huskies claimed their first-ever NCAA West Regional after placing fourth at the Pac-12 Championships, UW had four runners in the top 15 to claim the West title in Seattle led by senior Tyler King.

The Cardinal surged from No. 23 to No. 4 in the country after placing second at the Pac-12 Championships just 11 points behind the Buffs. Stanford had not run a full squad until that point and at full strength, led by junior Sean McGorty. The Cardinal had runners finish 6-7-8 place second at the West Regional, claiming the second automatic berth to the NCAA Championships.

CALIFORNIA makes its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2010 and is only its fourth all-time. The Golden Bears have had a solid season and are ranked No. 27 in the country. Redshirt senior Chris Walden had a strong finish at the Pac-12 Championships earning all-Conference honors after a 10th-place showing. He was also Cal’s top finisher at the West Region meet, placing 19th overall while helping the squad to a sixth-place finish.

UCLA is making its second-consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships and 11th overall. Senior Lane Werley has been a consistent runner for the Bruins in his career and looks to lead the Bears again in the postseason, placing fifth at the Pac-12 Championships. But he is expected to have some help from fellow senior Sergey Sushchickh, who was the top finisher at the regional meet with a ninth-place finish.

WASHINGTON STATE is also making a return to the NCAA Championships after a three-year absence. The Cougars had a strong showing at the West Regional as John Whelan and Michael Williams came in second and third place, respectively, helping the team to a fourth-place finish, the best finish at the meet since 2011, the last time WSU earned a NCAA Championship berth.

It is the seventh-straight year the Conference has had at least five member schools earn a NCAA Championship berth. COLORADO earned an automatic bid after claiming the NCAA Mountain Region title by a slim one-point margin over No. 1 New Mexico. The Buffs are the No. 2 team in the country and edged out OREGON at the Pac-12 Championships for the title by just six points.

The fifth-ranked Ducks avoided an upset, winning the NCAA West Region crown by just one point over Boise State. Senior Waverly Neer was the top Pac-12 finisher at the regional, coming in second place, while sophomore Allie Cash’s sixth-place showing by just over second faster than the seventh-place runner gave UO the West crown outright.

No. 13 Stanford was fourth at the regional meet but was without senior Aisling Cuffe. Cuffe sat out the 2014 campaign but in limited action this season, has been a difference for the Cardinal. She won the Pac-12 crown this season for the second time in her career (also winning in 2013). She is expected to race in Louisville which could mean a high finisher for the team after placing fourth at the 2013 NCAA Championship.

WASHINGTON is always a strong contender at the NCAA Championships winning its only title in 2008. Ranked 12th in the lastest rankings, the Huskies were third in the regional race, the stongest of the regionals competed. UW turned in three top-15 finishes led by Maddie Meyers’ third place.

UTAH is in the midst of the program’s best season ever, earning a spot in the NCAA Championships for the first time ever as a team. The No. 21-ranked team in the country, the Utes earned their first-ever ranking in the coaches poll for the first time this season and remained in the polling for two weeks. Utah is coming off two of its best finishes in program history, placing third at the Mountain Regional and fifth at the Pac-12 Championships.

Also joining the field as an individual is UCLA’s Carolina Johnson. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, she was the highest rookie finisher at the Conference meet placing ninth and earning All-Pac-12 honors. She turned in an impressive 26th place at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational in early October for her collegiate debut and was also 11th at the West Regional to help the Bruins place 10th overall as a team.

E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville will host the NCAA Championships for the second time. The last time it hosted this event in 2012, it turned out the closest finish for the top-three finishers in NCAA history. Oregon’s Jordan Hasay was third in the women’s 6,000 meter race, finishing just 0.7 seconds behind the national champion.

The Ducks have the most men’s titles of any Pac-12 team, ranking fourth all-time with six. The Buffs have won five times overall. The most individual national titles have been won by Pac-12 schools, with Oregon and Washington State tying with seven each.

On the women’s side, Stanford’s five are the most for any Pac-12 team, second most in the country.

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