Thursday, October 18

UCLA suffers upsets in final meets; NCAA chances slim


Monday, November 18, 1996

CROSS COUNTRY:

Keflezighi is the only individual UCLA runner to qualify for
NCAA championshipsBy Vytas Mazeika

Daily Bruin Contributor

Both the men’s and women’s cross country teams were unable to
run well enough this weekend to qualify for the NCAA championships.
The men, as expected, placed fourth while the women placed a
disappointing fifth.

"Yeah, I’m disappointed," women’s cross country coach Eric
Peterson said. "I’m not disappointed in the individuals on the
team. I’m disappointed at the results."

In one of the toughest districts in the country, the Bruins were
unable to keep up with the top three teams: Stanford (51 points),
Arizona (69 points) and Washington (98 points). As a result, UCLA
had hoped for an at-large bid with a good performance on
Saturday.

The women’s team had a chance to qualify for the NCAA
championships if it had been able to repeat the fourth-place
performance it had at the Pacific 10 Championships. No such luck.
The University of Oregon (153 points) took fourth away from UCLA
(172 points) by 19 points.

The surprising difference in points was mainly due to a subpar
performance by Kim Mortensen, UCLA’s top runner. Mortensen, who has
regularly won every meet or finished second to Arizona’s Amy
Skieresz, placed 27th.

If Mortensen had finished second to Skieresz at the District
VIII meet and beaten the rest of the competition as she had done
all season long, UCLA would have knocked off 25 points and placed
fourth.

Peterson gave many explanations for Mortensen’s failure to run
as she has all season long, but he could not pinpoint the exact
reason for her disappointing race.

"I warned her of the possibility (that the team may not qualify
for the NCAA championships)," Peterson said. "She was going into
this race thinking of it as a qualifying meet rather than a
championship."

Mortensen has been nursing a slight hamstring pull for about a
month, and until now it had not been affecting her racing. But in
this race she did not get out to her usual strong start, and
according to Peterson, it may have affected her mentally.

"I think she got discouraged early on," Peterson explained. "For
whatever reason, today she wasn’t able to come back like at the
Pac-10s. Today the well was dry."

One bright spot for the women’s team was Githa Hampson, who
ended her Bruin career by leading UCLA with a 24th-place
finish.

"It was a nice way to cap off her career as a Bruin," Peterson
said.

The rest of the Bruin women runners also did very well.
Katherina Kechris equaled her performance at the Pac-10
championships; Jessica Corbin had a strong finish; and Christina
Bowen, Kara Barnard and Melinda George all ran personal best
times.

Meanwhile, the men’s cross country team did as well as expected,
but it still was not enough. Head coach Bob Larsen knew that a
fourth-place finish would not get UCLA into the NCAA championships,
so his strategy was to go all-out and chase one of the top three
teams.

However, UCLA (165 points) was well off the pace set by three of
the top six teams in the nation.

"We went out pretty hard to see if we could challenge one of the
top- three teams," Larsen said. But after the three-mile mark, Mark
Hauser, Devin Elizondo and the rest of the Bruin runners fell back
into the back, and held off Washington State to finish fourth.

Now chances are very slim that UCLA will make it to the NCAA
championships as a team, since Oregon will take the at-large bid
from District VIII.

"UCLA still has a mathematical chance to get in," Larsen said.
"But it won’t happen. (The selection committee) won’t give two
at-large bids to the same district."

UCLA sent 14 runners to the District VIII championships at
Fresno State and only one survived.

Mebrahtom Keflezighi, one of the top collegiate cross country
runners, was the only Bruin who ran a good enough race to qualify
for the NCAA championships next Monday.

Larsen and Keflezighi decided to approach this race as a
qualifying race, knowing there would be a short amount of time to
recuperate for the NCAA championship Nov. 25.

"I told Meb, ‘If Karl (Keska, Oregon’s top runner and winner of
the District VIII meet) keeps pushing the pace, just let him go.’
We felt the smart thing to do was to run a conservative race,"
Larsen said.

As UCLA’s sole representative at the NCAA championships,
Keflezighi will not be able to run a conservative race next
Monday.

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