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Cross-country invitational serves as test run for NCAA Regional

Cross Country Invitational Preview
The UNG cross-country team is hosting the UNG Invitational on Sept. 29, which will serve as a precursor to hosting the NCAA Southeast Regional on Nov. 17.

The Sept. 29 University of North Georgia (UNG) Invitational cross-country meet will mark a precursor to a major milestone for UNG.

It will serve as a dress rehearsal for an even bigger stage, when UNG's Gainesville Campus hosts the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Nov. 17. The November race will mark the first NCAA event in Hall County and the first NCAA event secured by bid for UNG. It has previously hosted 19 events on the Dahlonega Campus based on seeding.

"We were excited to get it and also to showcase our Gainesville Campus," said Lee Glenn, associate athletic director for external operations.

Glenn said NCAA events have previously been held in Gwinnett and Lumpkin counties, while this will mark the first for Hall.

The men will run four loops of the 2,000-meter course for the UNG Invitational, compared with five loops for a 10K for the NCAA event. The women's race will be three loops making up a 6K for both events.

UNG will look to defend its UNG Invitational and Peach Belt Conference titles from 2017. The Nighthawks were named the preseason PBC favorite. The Peach Belt championship is being held Nov. 3 in Beech Island, South Carolina.

Tom Williams, head coach of UNG's cross-country team, said the UNG cross-country course will be challenging as it offers a number of elements to break up a runner's rhythm. Williams also said he made some changes to the course last year to make it more spectator-friendly.

As NCAA Southeast Regional host, this will mark UNG's 10th regional appearance. It will look to advance to the NCAA championship for the second time, after Williams' group advanced to that level in 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. It's a trip Williams said still brings back great memories.

Williams is also hoping to raise UNG's visibility in recruiting and to increase exposure for its sponsors.

Glenn said UNG's experience hosting previous NCAA events on the Dahlonega Campus and the chance for the NCAA to go to a new venue at the Gainesville Campus likely boosted UNG's bid.

Three women's teams and three men's teams will advance from the regional at UNG to the NCAA meet, set for Dec. 1 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The NCAA championship will be part of the NCAA Division II Fall Festival where Pittsburgh hosts the volleyball, women's field hockey, men's and women's soccer, and men's and women's cross country championships within a week.

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