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Cross country heads to NCAA Western Regional in search of qualifying for championship

Senior Garrett Reynolds and UCLA cross country will gear up for the NCAA regional competition, held in Washington. The No. 10 ranked men and unranked women each have a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA championship if they earn a top-two finish. (Courtesy of Don Liebig/UCLA Athletics)

By Joe Ceccarelli

Nov. 14, 2019 12:16 a.m.

The Bruins have a shot at automatic qualification for the NCAA championship.

UCLA cross country will travel to Colfax, Washington, to compete at the NCAA Western Regional on Friday. The No. 10 men’s team will take on a field that includes five ranked programs – three of which are the Bruins’ Pac-12 foes. The women’s team will also face four nationally ranked opponents.

Only the top two teams from each of the nine regions earn an automatic berth to NCAA championship in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Nov. 23. The final 13 selections are chosen by the NCAA committee.

Last season, the men’s team missed the championship meet for the first time since 2013, finishing only one point behind the national-meet-bound Oregon Ducks.

Senior Garrett Reynolds said he is confident in the Bruins’ ability to qualify for this year’s national meet, citing last year’s slim margin of defeat as a form of motivation.

“As long as we race to what we are capable of, I think we should have no problem being able to qualify,” Reynolds said. “Last year we missed out on going to the national meet and it makes us a bit more hungry this year. I think we’re a much stronger team than we were last year. … We’ve done all the work this year and we’re in a great spot to make it.”

Assistant coach Devin Elizondo said the Bruin runners in the middle of the pack made strides during UCLA’s last meet, adding to the team’s depth.

“I think the guys are doing that work in the middle and are trying to close the back door on the field,” Elizondo said. “We’ve got young guys proving themselves like (redshirt junior) Andy Ehrenberg, (junior) DJ Lawson and (redshirt freshman) Darius Riley at Pac-12’s. … We’ve been relying on the strength of the group all season.”

UCLA’s women’s team has been without junior Erika Adler, the team’s top runner in 2018 and the only Bruin to qualify for the NCAA championship that year for the entire season. Adler capped off her sophomore season with an individual berth to nationals in 2018. Junior Christina Rice has taken the lead as the team’s top scorer after falling one spot short of an individual berth to the national meet.

Despite the women’s squad falling from the rankings following the Bill Dellinger Invitational, Elizondo expressed confidence in the team’s ability to race well in a tough championship setting. The assistant coach also said a tighter pack will be the key in maximizing the women’s performance Friday.

“The women are a group that are rounding into form right now. They have some veteran leadership and some young runners in the middle,” Elizondo said. “Our conference grooms us to be really good in these situations because we need to fight every race.”

Freshman Emma Tavella has finished among UCLA’s top-three women’s runners at each invitational this season and also stressed the importance of keeping a tight pack for her team.

“I think our team just needs to stick together and have a good start,” Tavella said. “Then we can move up and find our teammates and hang together. We’re used to running in a close-knit pack, which is a strength because we run together all the time and we know how to race with each other. … I have a lot of faith in our girls.”

Friday’s races will be held at Colfax Golf Club in Colfax. The women’s race will start at 11:30 a.m., and the men’s race will follow at 12:30 p.m.

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Joe Ceccarelli | Sports contributor
Ceccarelli is currently a Sports contributor. He was previously a contributor on the track & field and cross country beats.
Ceccarelli is currently a Sports contributor. He was previously a contributor on the track & field and cross country beats.
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