UCF Chases C-USA Cross Country Championship Titles

Oct. 26, 2007

C-USA Championship Central

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - The UCF cross country teams look to finish at the front of the pack when they compete in the 2007 Conference USA Championships in Santa Teresa, N.M. on Oct. 27. Hosted by UTEP, the event kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET with the men's 8K race followed by the women's 5K at 1:30 p.m.

"Conference USA has a few nationally ranked teams," said UCF assistant coach Mason Cathey, who guides the distance runners. "We have been training for this meet and are aiming to finish in the top three for both the women and men."

"Mason has done well this fall in preparing our athletes for the championships," added UCF head track and field and cross country coach Caryl Smith Gilbert. "Both the men and women know their goals and it will be exciting to see who can deliver top performances."

The UCF women are looking to better their fifth-place showing from 2006. Leading the Knights, who have posted many personal-best times in the 5K this year, is senior co-captain Karen Kozub (Alden, N.Y./Alden HS). She has run at the top of the line-up throughout the season, finishing at 18:29.53, an effort that ranks fifth all-time in the UCF record books. Junior Jamie Rzepecki (East Aurora, N.Y./East Aurora HS) opened the season with a personal-best 18:34.37, which puts her eighth on the school's all-time list. Since then, she has finished no lower than No. 3 for UCF.

Meanwhile, senior Elizabeth Miller (Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek HS) has also been a consistent top three runner in the line-up and posted her own personal records in both the 5K and 6K events. Sophomore Erica Weitz (Morganville, N.J./Marlboro HS) has scored in either the fourth or fifth position for the Knights and her classmate Shannon Kelly (Tampa, Fla./Sickles HS) has also been solid, going a season-best 19:52 in the 5K at the Stetson Invitational on Oct. 12.

An all-conference honoree during her rookie campaign, sophomore Jenny Clausen (Jackson, N.J./Jackson Memorial HS) ranks seventh all-time on the UCF list for fastest 5K after going 18:31.20 at the 2006 Disney Classic. Junior Shantile Blackburn (Brooklyn, N.Y./Bishop Laughlin HS) went 19:43 at Stetson, but has recorded a 5K time of 18:54.32.

Coming off strong showings in her last two races, junior Kelly McNeill (Coral Springs, Fla./Taravella HS) has a personal-best time of 19:51.17.

UCF's competition in the women's race includes No. 16 Rice. After winning the league championship in 2005, the Owls look to reclaim the title from UAB, which bested them by one point to capture the 2006 crown. SMU senior Rachel Forish returns to defend her individual title.

Six of the seven UCF men slated to line up at the start of Saturday's 8K have clocked personal-best times in the event this fall. Senior Paul Nielsen (Oviedo HS) has been the top runner for the Knights in all but one race and went 25:39 at the Paul Short Invitational, a race that saw five total UCF male athletes earn personal-bests. In addition to Nielsen, junior Daniel Conn (Ocala, Fla./Trinity Catholic HS) ran No. 2 at 25:57. Sophomore transfer Richie Bonilla (Weston, Fla./Cypress Bay HS) and freshmen Baker Burchfield (Tampa, Fla./Wharton HS) and Miles Harris (Newberry, Fla./Oak Hill HS) also recorded career-best times at the meet.

A pair of seniors rounds out the Black & Gold line-up. Matt Clements (Oviedo HS) ran his best effort of 26:45.17 at the Vanderbilt Classic in mid-September, while Paul Fitzpatrick has missed bettering his by mere seconds at two different meets this year. He finished as UCF's No. 1 runner at the Stetson Invitational.

In the previous two conference championships, the Knights earned fourth place in the field of eight teams. Entering this weekend's competition, two-time defending champion UTEP is ranked No. 3 in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national poll, while Tulsa is No. 17. Junior Patrick Mutai of UTEP attempts to win the individual title for the third consecutive year.

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