The No. 7 Georgetown women’s cross country team will take its first step toward extending its 14-year tradition of finishing in the nation’s top 10 this weekend, as they travel to Davis, W.Va., in search of an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships.

Selection to the championship meet can be accomplished in one of two ways – either by an automatic bid, which are awarded to the top two finishers in each of the nation’s nine regional races, or through at-large bids, which are determined by a point system that awards credit for quality wins in head-to-head races during the regular season.

“Our position has always been that we need to get there as an automatic qualifier,” Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Ron Helmer said. “Our goal cannot be to position ourselves to get enough points so we can get an at-large bid – we need to do it automatically. And in that way, we get to control our own destiny, and we don’t have to worry about anything else.”

Georgetown has finished in the top two every year since the most recent modification of the regional qualifying system in 1996, and the team has learned from the past the importance of earning one of the two automatic qualifications.

“In 1993, I rested a couple of people, got fourth in the region, was the last at-large chosen and then ended up getting third at the national meet,” Helmer said. “That time was a little too close for comfort.”

Luckily for the team this year, the competition they are set to face is not incredibly daunting. Georgetown is ranked the highest of the three nationally ranked teams scheduled to participate in the meet, and the Hoyas steamrolled the two other ranked teams – No. 16 Villanova and No. 24 Penn State – in races earlier this season.

“In terms of depth, the Mid-Atlantic region is not as good as it used to be,” Helmer said. “For the last 14 years in a row, there’s been at least one team in the top 10 at the national meet, and for a while when Villanova was really good, there were two teams there every year, but I’d say right now that it’s in the middle in terms of the strength of region. You can make a case that two or three regions are stronger – either at the top or in terms of depth – but there are also certainly two or three regions that are nowhere near as tough as ours.”

West Virginia is a solid unranked team, and the ountaineers’ sophomore Megan Metcalfe is among the leading contenders for the individual title. Two other top individual competitors include Rutgers senior Julie Culley and Villanova sophomore Ioana Parusheva, both of whom finished ahead of Georgetown’s top finisher at the Big East Championship.

“I think Megan Metcalf, being the indoor 3,000m NCAA champion, has done some things on the track that we’ve not have people do, so I’d consider her the individual favorite,” Helmer said. “There are a couple more that beat us at the Big East, but I think we can run with all of them, and I think we can run in front of most of them. The order that we finished relative to people in our region at the Big East isn’t going to be the order that we finish at the regional, and I think some people will be a little surprised with how we shake that order up.”

Whatever the Hoyas accomplish on Saturday will be done without the help of one of its top runners. Sophomore Nicole Lee, who has led the team in every race in which she’s competed this season, will not run this weekend so that she can remain at school and avoid the stresses of travel and intense racing. With Lee’s absence, the team will look to the supporting cast of sophomore Jodee Adams-Moore and seniors Marni Kruppa and Jill Laurendeau to carry most of the weight. Adams-Moore has run consistently well in the No. 2 spot behind Lee all year, and Helmer said he expects big improvements from Kruppa and Laurendeau after somewhat shaky performances at the Big East Championship.

“There’s no doubt that Marni will be better, and far more ready to race this weekend than last time out, and I believe Jill is also going to be far more ready to race this weekend,” Helmer said. “As those two find their way a little closer to the front, I think you’ll find that the girls that have been solid – Jodee, [senior] Erin [Sicher] and [junior] Treniere [Clement] particularly – are going to get a lift, because those two cross country All-Americans are going to perform better, and then that gives us at least five people that will run really, really well.”

With just one race remaining before nationals, and an opening at the front of their pack, Helmer feels the circumstances will help bring out the best in his athletes on Saturday.

“We’re going to be a better team than we’ve been any time up to this point,” Helmer said. “We’re training very well, these are very talented kids and they have worked very hard. They raced poorly at the Big East relative to what I know they can do, and I can’t imagine, given that set of factors, that they’ll go out and race poorly again. I think we’re going to feel a sense of urgency and opportunity, and when we go to the national meet and plug Nicole back in, it should give us another lift.”

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