Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dawgs, Cougs, Zags and Eagles off to Stanford with trips to NCAA cross nationals on the line...

The cross country squads of the University of Washington, Washington State, Eastern Washington, and Gonzaga won't be getting any air time on ESPN's "College Game Day" this Saturday when they toe the line at the Stanford Golf Course in Palo Alto for the NCAA West Regional cross country championships.

The popular pre-game show is on the campus of Stanford University hours before the big Pac-12 North contest pitting the Cardinal against last year's BCS national championship finalists, the Oregon Ducks, in one of the country's most anticipated football showdowns.

Not very far from Stanford Stadium, 27 men's teams and 34 women's teams will be vying for two automatic spots to the NCAA cross country championships on November 21st in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The top two teams from each of the nine regional races around the country automatically qualify for the trip to Terre Haute.

After those 18 teams, 13 at-large teams are selected based on how well they’ve competed against the automatic qualifiers. For an individual to make it, they must be one of the first four individual runners to place, and finish in the top 25 overall in their region.

For the University of Washington women's squad, with senior Christine Babcock (left/photo by Paul Merca) possibly running the penultimate race of her four year career that's included a national championship in her freshman year, a solid performance Saturday should garner them their fifth straight national championship appearance after their second place finish two weeks ago at the Pac-12 championships in Arizona.

With Pac-12 champ Colorado running in another regional meet, the Dawgs enter the regionals as slight favorites to win their fourth straight West Regional championship.

The front packs of both races figure to resemble the Pac-12 Championships, although Colorado, which won the men's and women's Pac-12 titles, is in a different region. That leaves the Huskies as the top-ranked team on the women's side, followed by No. 8 Stanford, No. 11 Oregon, No. 16 Arizona, and No. 26 California. San Francisco, at No. 27, is the only ranked West Region team outside the Pac-12.

The men's field is headed by No. 6 Stanford, with No. 8 Portland challenging along with no. 17 Oregon, and No. 21 UCLA.

If Washington State's men's team is to make their first appearance at the NCAA championships since 2006, they will have to run as well or better than what they did a few weeks ago at the adidas Notre Dame Invitational.

"We feel we need to run well for us to have a chance to go to the NCAAs (Championships). I’m not sure what place that is, but we feel like if we execute our race plan and the guys run to their capabilities, we have got a solid shot at being in the conversation when the (at-large) teams are announced next Monday," said WSU coach Pete Julian.

As was the case two weeks ago, Julian will be missing on the women's side #1 runner Ruby Roberts from Kingston, who is injured.

Here's Julian's press conference from earlier this week, courtesy of wsucougars.com:



While the women will run 6k, the men will run 10k, a distance that none of the teams have raced over this season.

The home page of the NCAA West Regionals is available via this link.

paulmerca.blogspot.com will be on site at Stanford to provide coverage of the final step before the NCAA national championships.

NOTE: The sports information offices at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, and Stanford University contributed to this report.

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