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Final Regional kick propels Macumber to NCAA Championship

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This weekend, Cally Macumber will look to improve on a sixth-place finish at last season's NCAA Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics) This weekend, Cally Macumber will look to improve on a sixth-place finish at last season's NCAA Championships. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As Cally Macumber races at the NCAA Cross Country Championships Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind., for the second consecutive year, she does so following an exciting second-place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships Nov. 15 in Charlottesville, Va.

The UK senior passed two runners in the final 50 meters of the 6,000-meter race and made up a 15-meter gap to secure a spot in Saturday's national championship event.

Her finish of 20:07.90 solidified an NCAA Championship bid and was just 0.80 seconds ahead of Virginia's Barbara Strehler and Duke's Juliet Bottorff, who both posted a 20:08.70. Emily Stites of William and Mary won the event in 19:57.5.

It was that final 50-meter kick that gives the Rochester Hills, Mich., native a chance to compete for a national title.

"She was probably 30 or 40 yards back with about 300 meters left and made a fantastic move," UK head coach Edrick Floreal said. "It's just being in the zone, like a basketball player making six or seven in a row. It's a jolt of confidence, and you sort of have to have that 'I don't want to lose' mentality.

"It was a single file line that was probably about six or seven girls long. Cally, in that big homestretch at one point went left and came back right and passed another one, it was kind of amazing, just to watch that confidence. We talked after the SEC Championships, and she didn't do what we thought was her best and we talked about being a champion and finding a way to becoming that champion, one that people talk about. She is making strides to become that."

That can't-lose attitude was what got Macumber a runner-up finish and a place on the All-Southeast Regional team for the second consecutive season.

"Whenever you see the finish line, you get that extra boost," Macumber said of her sprint to the finish. "I just get really happy to see the finish line and start sprinting. The energy from having all the cheering fans gets me to sprint."

After a break-out season in 2012, Macumber has raced this season with a target on her back. It's something she has grown to accept and a challenge she has taken head on.

"She is becoming aware of her abilities," Floreal said. "She's aware, and everyone else is aware. People are building their strategies based off of her, and that's a sign of respect. You also have to embrace that and convince them that this plan won't work, I can adjust too."

Macumber has adjusted well, and her sprint to the finish at the NCAA Regionals was the perfect example. Now, it's time to bring it one last time.

"I need to keep focused and not think about that too much," Macumber said of the expectations. "It's just another race and I have to make sure I stay composed and do the best I can."

As the lone Kentucky runner in her final collegiate cross-country competition Saturday, she'll be racing all alone for the Blue and White.

"I definitely feel like I'm representing our team, and I want to represent us well," Macumber said. "I'm going to try and finish as high up as possible."

Being the only runner from UK and having lofty expectations won't faze her though. As Macumber said, "It's just another race."

Only this time, there will be a lot more people cheering as she nears that finish line.

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