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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cross country’s Lagat takes 17th in regionals

    After a long and draining year, the 2008 cross country season finally concluded Saturday as the men’s and women’s squads competed in the NCAA West Regional Championships in Palo Alto, Calif. But for senior Irine Lagat, there may be a bit more.

    Lagat has not only been one of Arizona’s top runners but has also been one of the top runners in the country. But in order to establish the fact that she is worthy of receiving a bid to the NCAA national champion tournament on Nov. 24, she had to have a very successful race this weekend.

    In the women’s 6,000-meter race, in which the Wildcats finished in eight place out of 30 teams, Lagat placed 17th in 20:28.05, about 15 seconds better than her prior personal best.

    “”You always expect something better and everybody wants to be No. 1,”” Lagat said with a laugh. “”I could have done more, but I’m still happy with what I did.””

    Because Lagat had to prove herself in this one race, there was some added pressure, but she didn’t let it get in the way of her running.

    “”I just went out there with a competitive mindset,”” Lagat said. “”This is my last opportunity so I just went out there and ran and that’s how I approached it. “”

    UA head coach James Li credited Lagat’s constant success to her ability to always keep the right mindset going into races.

    “”I think she’s able to run so well because of her determination and focus,”” Li said. “”That was clearly a very good race for her, and she has been making significant improvements over the years.””

    Although nothing is a guarantee, both Lagat and Li like the runner’s possibility of getting a bid to the national championship.

    “”I think I have a good chance,”” Lagat said. “”The coaches told me so and I go with their word.””

    However, the process the NCAA committee follows to decide which teams and which runners will make the national championship is very complicated.

    The NCAA automatically takes the top four runners from the top 25 who finish in each region and who are not on a team that earns a team qualification.

    As far as Lagat’s chances of making it to the national championship are concerned, she is currently the fifth-place runner on a non-qualifying team. Because only the top four runners are given bids, Lagat needs the University of California-Davis team – which finished sixth in the regionÿ- to be given an at-large bid.

    If they are given an at-large bid, the two UC-Davis runners who finished ahead of Lagat in the regional competition would be deducted from the conclusion and Lagat would move up to third place, thus receiving an automatic bid.

    Because the process is so complicated, Lagat said she plans to let things just play out.

    “”It’s very complicated, but I’m relaxing and just going to wait to hear what happens,”” Lagat said.

    On the other hand, Li is paying very close attention to the procedure.

    “”I’m definitely following the procedures carefully,”” Li said. “”I don’t really have all the information the NCAA committee has, but I try to follow as much as I can.””

    Lagat will be the only UA runner from either the men’s or women’s team who has a chance of representing the Wildcats in the national championship.

    The UA men’s season came to an end with a 12th place finish.

    The men were led, yet again, by sophomore Victor Zazueta in the 10,000-meter race, the Wildcats’ longest race this season. Arizona finished in 34th place in a time of 30:02.30.

    “”Runners like Victor are just doing very well. He had a great race,”” Li said.

    Overall though, Li was not pleased with how both the men’s and women’s teams did as a whole.

    “”I can’t say I’m really satisfied with either team,”” Li said. “”I think on both sides this year we’re clearly making improvements, but obviously we’re just not good enough to really be where we want to be. As a team, we’re not making it to nationals, which is not good enough.””

    Although Li was upset with the final placing for both squads, he said he is proud of the teams and added that the future is bright for the Arizona cross country program.

    “”The teams have made great improvement and athletes came back and ran so much better this year,”” Li said. “”I do think there is a lot of hope for next year that were going to be a lot stronger, though. We’ll continuously see improvements made and can definitely be a factor on a national scene.””

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