The men and women of Western’s cross country team will compete in what could be their last race of the season Saturday at the Southeast District Championship in Greenville, N.C.
The only way to keep the season going is to qualify for the national championships, not a simple task.
On the women’s side, six of the country’s ranked teams will compete against Western this weekend: No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 6 North Carolina State, No. 11 Virginia, No. 14 Duke, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 27 James Madison.
Western’s women are ranked 10th in the Southeast District. Only the top two teams from Saturday’s race will qualify for nationals automatically.
Monday, the NCAA selection committee will pick 13 at-large teams to compete with the top two finishers from the nine districts.
After all teams are chosen for nationals, the top four remaining individuals from each district get an automatic bid to nationals. The final three individuals are at-large selections from throughout the nation.
The only Western female ever to qualify was Breeda Dennehy, who won district in 1991.
“I just think that any one of our top three women have a chance to qualify as an individual,” Coach Curtiss Long said.
Cara Nichols, Olga Cronin and Bonita Paul are all shooting for individual bids. This will be a challenge for Paul in particular, who has hardly ran the past month while battling a hip flexor injury.
“I would like to see the three of them get in the top 25,” assistant coach Michelle Scott said. “I think they’re well capable of that. It will just depend on how many teams get out of the district as to who will go individually and who won’t.”
The men will face an even tougher challenge in qualifying. While only North Carolina State and William and Mary from the district are ranked nationally, 19th and 29th respectively, Western’s men are not ranked in the top ten in the district.
A men’s team from Western has not qualified since 1980. But junior Enda Grandfield qualified for nationals just last year with a tenth-place finish at district. He was the first to have done so in more than five years.
Grandfield’s chances are not as good as they could be, under the circumstances.
“He simply does not feel very well,” Long said.
Grandfield finished a disappointing ninth in the Sun Belt Conference championship two weeks ago. He had been a favorite to contend for the title.
Both teams are shooting for top ten finishes. The men finished 11th last year, while the women finished 10th.
Reach Adam Eadens at [email protected]