Bishop, GA - Both Bulldog individuals and teams proved victorious during the season-opening Georgia Invitational at the UGA Equestrian Complex in Bishop, Ga., on Saturday morning.
Junior Brandon Lord jumpstarted the day for the Georgia men by capturing his first career victory on the Bulldogs’ home course with a time of 26:16.49. With senior Matt Cleaver grabbing second place, Georgia finished first through fifth and cruised to a 15-53 win over Georgia Tech (53) in the 8k. Mercer (85) and Campbell (99) finished third and fourth, respectively, while Point University was sixth (189).
On the women’s side, senior Morgan VanGorder tallied the victory in the 5k showdown after clocking a 17:02.53. The Lady Bulldogs swept the 1-2-3 spots and won easily 20-56 over the Yellow Jackets. Mercer (78), Campbell (87) and Point University (144) were the third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams.
This marked the first race for Patrick Cunniff as the Bulldogs’ distance coach. Cunniff ran for Georgia in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is now attempting to direct UGA back to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive season.
“I think this was a solid start for our teams and now we kind of know where we are,” said Cunniff. “We are always happy with two wins and now we have to get ready for the bigger meets later in the year. I think we have the attitude to be competitive on both the men and women’s side.
“It was nice to see all five of the guys sticking together and then finishing strong to have the top finishes. For the women, I am pleased those three runners up front – Morgan VanGorder, Leslie Boozer and Stella Christoforou – starting fast and finishing with a strong pace. Now we will work on figuring out who will be up there with that crew to help us have a full team effort later in the season.”
From the sound of the gun, the Georgia men moved to the front of the pack and stayed their through the entire course. Lord pulled away on the second lap as Cleaver, who clocked a 26:21.14, stayed close to his teammate for the runner-up finish.
Junior Luke Baker (26:29.88) managed a third-place finish while senior Brett Richardson (26:34.21) and junior Charlie Sparks (26:37.50) rounded out the scorers for the Bulldogs.
Cleaver, who is one of the team’s senior leaders, explained the plan for the Bulldog men on Saturday.
“We had a strategy for today to run the first three miles at a five minute pace, so to finish the first three in 15 minutes,” said Cleaver, who returns to competition after winning the last two SEC steeplechase titles on the track. “From there we were set to pick it up the last two miles. The logic behind that strategy was for us to maintain a strong effort early in the season but always have our eyes set on mid-November. It’s a cliché, but no one will remember what teams were winning during the first week of the season. They will remember the ones that advance to the NCAA Championships and the ones that score there.”
VanGorder kept a steady pace throughout the women’s race and edged her senior teammate, Leslie Boozer (17:07.92), for the five-second win. Junior Stellla Christoforou, who is one of the track team’s middle distance standouts, stayed with the lead pack and recorded a third-place finish (17:18.68). Senior Nicole DiMercurio also cracked into the scoring list with a fifth-place finish (17:19.13) as senior Lindsey Ebert (17:40.15) was ninth and scored.
Boozer said the Lady Bulldogs have been using more of a team approach as they train for 2012.
“We got in a habit last year of kind of running for ourselves and learned the hard way that it was not the best way to go about our business,” said Boozer. “This year, we are trying to work as a team throughout the race and if we carry that one throughout the season, I think it should pay off.”
Georgia returns to action in Nashville, Tenn., at the Commodore Classic on Sept. 15.