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Cross country sends 3 runners to Indiana to compete in NCAA championships

Junior Christina Rice finished first for the women of UCLA cross country at the NCAA West Regional on Nov. 15 with a time of 20 minutes, 6.2 seconds.She was the only Bruin on the women’s side to individually qualify for the NCAA championships. (Courtesy of UCLA Athletics)

By Joe Ceccarelli

Nov. 21, 2019 7:37 p.m.

Three Bruins will represent UCLA on collegiate cross country’s biggest stage.

Junior Christina Rice, redshirt senior Colin Burke and senior Garrett Reynolds will race at the NCAA cross country championships in Terre Haute, Indiana, on Saturday. This will mark Rice’s first NCAA championship race in her collegiate career while Burke and Reynolds will both make their third appearance at the national meet after appearing in 2016 and 2017.

At last week’s NCAA West Regional, the No. 10 men’s team was unable to advance to nationals after redshirt senior Robert Brandt suffered an undisclosed injury leading up to the regional meet. Nevertheless, the team’s two leading scorers at the regional meet qualified for the national meet as individuals.

Burke led the Bruins with a fifth-place finish at the West Regional, improving upon his 11th-place finish from 2018. Reynolds followed closely behind, placing 11th. Unlike last year, an 11th-place finish was enough to earn an individual berth, as Reynolds finished third among runners whose team did not qualify to nationals.

Burke said his race strategy will not change despite the lack of a full team behind him.

“The goal I have going into every race is to give it my all and just try to score as few points as possible for the team,” Burke said. “It’s a little different where it’s not as team-oriented, but I still have to approach it the same way.”

In 2017, Burke and Reynolds both missed placing in the top-100 by less than 15 seconds. A top-40 finish awards All-American status – an honor the two Bruins missed out on by less than 55 seconds in 2017.

Assistant coach Devin Elizondo said he expects the two male qualifiers to be focused on besting their placement from two years ago.

“You’ve got to celebrate the folks that are going through and going to represent us at the (NCAA) national championships in Terre Haute,” Elizondo said. “(Reynolds) and (Burke) would’ve been there two years ago with the team, so I know they’re looking to improve on what they’ve done at the national meet.”

On the women’s side in 2018, Rice did not qualify for the national meet, as she was passed in the last mile by the final individual qualifier. At this year’s regionals, Rice moved up six spots in the final kilometer to lead the women’s team with an eighth-place finish.

At the regional meet, Rice was the second-fastest athlete from a team that did not advance to nationals.

“I was really happy to come out with the goal of getting to nationals,” Rice said. “That was all I was looking for in that meet and just to have it be a really good finish is icing on the cake.”

In high school, Rice never qualified for a state-level cross country championship. Saturday will be the junior’s first taste of racing at a end-of-season championship meet.

Rice said she is excited by the opportunity to race against the nation’s best runners at the NCAA championship.

“Coming to college, I definitely wanted to prove myself and represent UCLA to the best of my abilities,” Rice said. “Going to a national meet does mean a lot to me. … It’s a great opportunity to showcase all the hard work I’ve been doing.”

With forecasted showers and a near-freezing race time temperature, the conditions in Terre Haute will be different from the Bruins’ usual climate in Westwood. However, Burke said he believes the weather will not affect his performance.

“Obviously, it doesn’t get cold in Westwood,” Burke said. “When you’re 20 minutes into a race, you’re not really thinking about that. I’m sure I’ll wear arm sleeves and gloves and stuff like that, but I think at the end of the day it’s just another race.”

Saturday’s races will be held at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. The women’s race will begin at 11:15 a.m. EST, and the men’s race will kick off at 12:15 p.m. EST.

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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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