UVa Cross Country Hoping for Home-Course Advantage

With trips to the NCAA Championship at stake, the men's and women's cross country teams at Virginia could use any advantage they can find.

And they hope running their home course -- Panorama Farms is hosting Friday's NCAA Southeast Regional -- can play as a sizable advantage.

"I think it's really big. Especially now, as we go to 10-thousand meters, championship-level racing," said men's coach Pete Watson. "Just that moment of doubt when it's hurting a little bit more, and you know what's coming around that next corner on the course. I really think it helps a lot."

"Knowing the tangents on curves, and just kind of what's coming up ahead," agreed women's coach Todd Morgan. "And they could probably run it blind-folded. So I think that definitely is a competitive advantage mentally."

"It's kind of like a wild-card factor going into the race," said senior runner Thomas Porter. "We would certainly wish that our fitness would be sufficient to take the race itself, and to perform well. But we think it's just another, just an extra bonus."

Friday's event will mark the first time Panorama Farms has hosted an NCAA meet. Runners from 40 schools will participate, with the men's 10k race set for noon, and the women's 6k race to follow at 1:15 p.m.

The UVa women enter the event as the top-ranked team in the Southeast Region, and ranked No. 11 nationally.

"We just want to focus on us, and what we're doing," said Morgan. "You can only control yourself. And not really getting caught up with what's going on around you. If we can do that, and compete hard, then everything will play into place. And 'just keep moving on' is the goal."

The men will be trying to defend last year's NCAA Regional championship. But they will start the race ranked third in the region, and unranked nationally.

The top two teams in each race qualify automatically for the NCAA Championship later this month in Indiana. Thirteen teams will also earn at-large bids, but those are based on national rankings.

"It's all or nothing for us. We're either Top 2 or we're done," Watson said. "The women and Coach Morgan have the nice luxury, they're probably Top 4 and they're good to go. These boys have got to show up. And they're fit, they're confident. It should be a good day."

"We all have a general idea of where our fitness is, and where we need to be to contribute to the team," said Porter. "And we're focused on those individual goals, more than we are about where we're going to finish relative to others. And certainly we wish to win. But it's not going to come from focus on UNC or Eastern Kentucky that's going to get us on top. We're looking inward."

Watson said a big reason he's confident entering Friday's race is because his team performs better in longer-distance races.

"We've got a good group of guys. Good heads on their shoulders. They aren't putting too much pressure on themselves," he said. "They've just got to trust in their fitness, and the work they've done, and we'll get the job done."

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