After coming up short in their quests for a Conference USA title Nov. 2, the University of South Florida cross country teams hope to rebound this Saturday in what could be their last race of the season.
The Bulls will run in the South Regional meet Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., for an opportunity to advance to the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
The top two teams in each of the nine regional meets will advance to the NCAAs on Nov. 25, and 13 more teams will advance as at-large competitors.
In addition, the top four runners in the men’s and women’s races will also advance, excluding those runners who are on a team in the top two.
USF coach Greg Thiel said there is an opportunity for some runners to advance to the NCAA meet.
“Absolutely, I think we’ve got a shot,” Thiel said.
The women’s team has the better shot to advance beyond this weekend. They won’t have to deal with nemesis Marquette, which has beaten the Bulls in the Conference USA meet the last two seasons. However, they will have to watch out for a few other teams.
“It looks like it will be us, Florida State, Tennessee and probably Georgia Tech, if they’re healthy,” Thiel said. “They only take two (teams to nationals), so it depends on who runs well that day.”
The women already defeated FSU earlier this season when they captured the Gator Invitational title in Gainesville.
The Bulls were 31 points better than second-place Georgia Tech at the Bulldog Stampede Sept. 14, but they haven’t been head-to-head with Tennessee.
Sophomore Christa Benton, who is coming off a third-place finish at the conference meet, should pace the Bulls in their attempt to make it to nationals for the fifth consecutive year.
However, it will take a team effort if the Bulls hope to advance. Seniors Cori Kill and Kristy Fuller must run well if they don’t want their final season to be cut short.
The men’s team doesn’t have as good of a chance as the women’s to advance since it hasn’t finished higher than fifth this year, but senior standout Andrew Smith has a realistic opportunity to return to nationals in his final season.
Smith, who won the Conference USA individual title, hopes to get back to the NCAA meet, something he enjoyed in his first year at USF in 2000.
“He’s going to run his own race,” Thiel said. “Basically, what he’ll do is run with the leaders.
“Andrew is going to have to crank it up a notch. In this situation, you really can’t tell where you are (in relation to the other competitors).”
One thing is for sure. If the Bulls fail to qualify, there is no tomorrow.
“Now that the conference race is over, it’s basically just a one-meet season,” Thiel said.
Adam Adkins covers USF cross country and can be reached at email@example.com