Wildcats Race in NCAA Southeast Regional Saturday

Nov. 13, 2009

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Kentucky cross country teams begin their quest for an NCAA Championship berth at the NCAA Southeast Regional hosted by the University of Louisville at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer Park in the Derby City Saturday morning.

The men's 10K race begins at 10:00 a.m. ET followed by the women's 6K race at 11:15 a.m. Both UK teams have already competed at the regional host site this year when each placed second overall at the Greater Louisville Classic in early October. Kentucky and South Carolina are the only Southeastern Conference institutions participating in the regional that is predominantly made up of teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Entering the weekend, the 2009 Wildcat men rank ninth in the Southeast region. A youthful UK men's squad comes into the race looking to capitalize on solid performances at the SEC Championships. For the second time this season, freshman Luis Orta led the UK men to the finish, completing the 8K course in 25:12 to place 13th overall and earn All-SEC Second Team accolades. Junior Adam Henken clocked in at 25:29 to finish second on the team and 20th overall. First-year runner Matt Sonnenfeldt placed 31st overall in a time of 26:02. Orta and Sonnenfeldt both earned conference All-Freshman team honors as a result of their finishes.

Henken has continued his consistency up front for the Cats this season. Since the 2007 SEC Championships in Lexington, he has finished no worse than third on the team with six top finishes. Orta and Sonnenfeldt have shared the spotlight with Henken in the top three this year. Each member of the trio has led the Cats across the finish line at one meet this season, while the other two follow immediately behind.

Sophomore Matt Wagner has scored in each meet for UK this year after placing fourth on the team at the conference meet. Freshman Tyler Dickinson was the latest Cat to finish in the final scoring spot for UK, joining sophomores Josh Nadzam and Colin Heenan this season.

"In the NCAA Regional, our men need to simply run up to their potential," said assistant track and field coach for distance and cross country John Mortimer. "Assuming they do that and Luis Orta and Adam Henken can run towards the front, our men should have a much improved regional finish from past years."

The Kentucky women's squad ranks eighth coming into the Southeast Regional. The UK women hope to continue their recent progress at the Regional this weekend. Over the past three seasons under the guidance of Mortimer, the Wildcats have moved up from an eighth-place finish in 2006, to a fourth-place showing in 2007 and earned an NCAA automatic bid in 2008. The 2009 Cats return just two scorers from last year's squad. Over the past two seasons, junior Katherine Peterson has scored in every UK meet while senior Lindsay Petri has just two finishes outside the top five.

Throughout the season four freshmen have consistently joined the veterans in the UK top six. Two weeks ago at the SEC Championships, freshman Chelsea Oswald was the first Wildcat across the finish line for the second time this season, placing 14th overall to claim All-SEC Second Team recognition. Oswald completed the 6K course in 21:56. Classmate Cally Macumber clocked in at 22:16 to place 19th overall. As a result of their top finishes, Oswald and Macumber both notched All-Freshman team awards from the conference. First-year runner Samantha Norman has scored in each meet this season while classmate Amanda Whowell scored at the SECs after scoring in one meet earlier this season to go with two sixth-place finishes on the team.

"The women's field seems to have a lot of parity among the top eight teams in the regional rankings," added Mortimer. "Like the men, if our ladies run up to their capabilities they should be in the thick of the team race."

Last season at the Southeast Regional hosted by Wake Forest, the Wildcat women clinched their first NCAA bid in 19 seasons with a second-place automatic qualifying finish. UK was the only women's squad to place all five runners in the top 36. On the men's side, Henken became the first Wildcat to run at the NCAA Championships since 2003. Henken earned All-Southeast Regional honors with a fifth-place finish to automatically qualify for the Championship meet

The Southeast Regional is one of nine held around the country this weekend to determine automatic bids to the NCAA Championships held on Nov. 23 at Indiana State University. The top two teams and first four individuals in each race within each region gain automatic entrance into the final meet. Early next week13 slots are awarded by an NCAA selection committee to schools at-large to field 31 teams in each race.

Click UKathletics.com for a full recap and results from the NCAA Southeast Regional.