BLACKSBURG - For the first time in 25 years, the Virginia Tech men's cross country team is headed back to the NCAA Championship. After the 18 teams earned automatic qualification yesterday, Tech was one of 13 teams awarded today with an at-large bid to the NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.
"I'm very proud of the guys," Virginia Tech head coach Ben Thomas said. "We set two goals before the season. One was to win the ACC title and the other was to qualify as a team for nationals. To reach both of the those goals, I feel really proud of our seniors for the leading the team to that. I'm really excited to see what we can do there. Hopefully it becomes an annual thing for us."
After a fourth-place finish yesterday at the NCAA Southeast Regional, the same spot they finished in last season's regional, the Hokies were left to wait and see if they did enough work during the season to receive an at-large bid. With wins over four automatic qualifiers during its showings at Pre-Nationals and the ACC Championship, Tech was in prime position to earn a bid.
Looking at this year's field, Tech had beaten seven of the teams while having raced against a total of 10 of the teams in the field.
This year's trip to championship marks only the fifth time in program history that the men's team has qualified for nationals, with each of the previous four coming between 1969 and 1987. Only five Hokies have ever earned All-America honors at the meet, with redshirt senior Will Mulherin being the last to earn the honor in 2011, breaking a 22-year drought for the men's program.
For the Hokies, this season has been a multi-year journey for the program that has finally come to fruition.
"We knew that if we put a team together that was good enough to win conference, that could be a team that could qualify for nationals as well," Thomas said. "We knew that those two goals could go hand in hand. Winning ACC's doesn't get you to nationals, you still have to go to the regional meet and get it done that day. Something I'm really proud of is that we've always had somebody step up and be a hero for us. At ACC's it was Brayden [Burleigh] and Tommy [Curtin], but when you're No. 2 and 3 runners there are sixth and seventh at regionals, you don't usually qualify for nationals. Kevin Dowd and Brian Welch really step up and ran well enough and we were still able to get to nationals. It's definitely been a team effort along the way."
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