LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Redshirt junior Will Mulherin placed fifth individually to earn All-Region honors and a place in the NCAA National Championship as the Virginia Tech men’s cross country team placed fourth and the women finished sixth at the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional Championship hosted by Louisville today at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park. In addition, redshirt junior Michael Hammond placed 19th to earn All-Region (top-25) honors for the men and sophomore Madalyn Nuckols was 23rd to earn All-Region accolades for the women.
Mulherin’s fifth place finish of 29:59.9 for the 10 kilometer race automatically qualifies him as an individual for the NCAA National Championship Meet on Monday, Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. The top two teams in each race for all of the nine regions automatically qualify for the NCAA Championship, along with the top-four individuals on non-qualifying teams. 13 teams and two individuals from across the nation also receive at-large bids, for a total of 31 teams and 38 individuals who will compete at the NCAA Meet.
As a team, Tech’s men will have to await word from the NCAA selection committee to see if they are selected for an at-large bid. The NCAA will announce at-large selections for teams and individuals tomorrow evening.
The Hokie men scored 161 points to finish in fourth place in the team race, defeating nationally-ranked teams in North Carolina and Louisville. NC State won the men’s team title with 68 points and Eastern Kentucky finished second to earn the Southeast Region’s two automatic team bids to the NCAA Championship. The men’s fourth place team finish was their highest at the Regional Meet since 1987, when the Hokies won the regional championship, and it matched the 1986 team for the program’s second highest finish ever at regionals.
“Our goal for the men was to get into the top-two, but with that said we had a very good day today,” said Tech head cross country and distance coach Ben Thomas. “Will Mulherin had an outstanding race up front. Michael Hammond was very solid, running his personal best cross country 10k and Leoule Degfae had his best race of the year. I felt like our effort was good and there is still a chance we could make it to nationals as a team. Regardless, it’s exciting to know that all the guys who ran today will back next year.”
Mulherin and Hammond (30:43.3) each earned All-Region honors for the first time in their career and are the first duo to earn All-Region honors in the same season for the Hokie men since 1994. Mulherin’s fifth place was the second highest finish ever by a Hokie male at the regional meet, eclipsed only by Steve Taylor’s third place in 1987.
Sophomore Leoule Degfae was third to cross the line for the Hokies as he was 34th in 31:06.8. Redshirt sophomore Jared Berman finished 49th in 31:26.6 and freshman Thomas Curtin rounded out Tech’s top-five in 54th (31:33.7).
The Tech women had 199 points as Virginia won the women’s team race with 107 points and NC State was runner-up to earn the automatic team bids.
“Our women moved up points wise from where we were last year (at regionals),” said Thomas. “Madalyn Nuckols did a great job today to earn All-Region. The women packed well on the day and we’re a very young team so I’m optimistic that we can come back and challenge for a top-two spot next year.”
Nuckols crossed the line first for Tech in a time of 21:00.5 for the six kilometer race to place 23rd and earn All-Region honors for the first time in her career. Her time was a personal best for the cross country 6k. Classmate Courtney Dobbs followed in 39th in a time of 21:25.3 and senior Sammy Dow (42nd, 21:31.7) was close behind. Sophomore Taylor Crosson (46th, 21:35.2) and freshman Sarah Rapp (49th, 21:38.9) rounded out the Tech scoring.
The Southeast Regional field included seven nationally-ranked teams, according to the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) top-30 national poll, including four on the men’s side (No. 14 NC State, No. 20 Eastern Kentucky, No. 25 North Carolina and No. 26 Louisville) and three on the women’s side (No. 20 NC State, No. 21 Virginia and No. 25 North Carolina).
Both teams placed higher than their regional ranking, as the Virginia Tech men entered the meet ranked tied for fifth in the Southeast Region, while the women were tabbed eighth. 32 men’s teams and 35 women’s teams participated in the meet.
Ryan Hill of NC State won the men’s race in 29:48.8 and Kendra Schaaf of North Carolina won the women’s race in 19:52.9.
The 2011 NCAA Division I National Championship Meet will be held on Monday, Nov. 21 at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind. Indiana State is the host institution. Earlier this year, Tech ran the national meet course at Indiana State’s Pre-National Invitational.
For updates on Virginia Tech cross country, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Track).