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McDougal Aims at National Cross Country Title
McDougal (Peru, N.Y.) will be making his fourth trip to the national meet. As a freshman in 2004, he debuted at nationals with a 13th-place finish, followed by a fourth-place effort as a sophomore. However, McDougal slipped to a disappointing (by his lofty standards) 27th-place finish a season ago, as he admittedly struggled to mesh his training philosophies with those of then first-year distance coach Greg Jimmerson, a former Stanford standout.
A year later, McDougal and Jimmerson are now on the same page, and the Liberty senior is in top form as he prepares to chase an elusive national title. He has raced less leading up to the national meet than in years past, and is coming off a school and Big South Conference-record 10K time of 29:30.70, which he ran to capture his third NCAA Southeast Regional crown. Add all of these factors up, and McDougal and Liberty Head Cross Country/Track & Field Coach Brant Tolsma are both optimistic entering Monday's race.
"I'm more ready than I've ever been," stated McDougal. "My fitness is easily the best it's ever been, and overall I'm more confident heading into the national meet. This year, it will take a lot for me not to be battling for the win at the end of the race."
"This is the best prepared Josh has been yet going into nationals," echoed Tolsma. "However, I think this is the best field he's ever had to run against. It will be a great challenge, and somebody who's a great runner is going to finish fourth or fifth."
McDougal's toughest competition this season has come in the form of Eastern Kentucky senior Jacob Korir. Korir defeated McDougal at the 2006 NCAA Southeast Regional meet and placed seventh at the national meet a season ago. However, the Liberty senior has had his number in 2007, outkicking Korir at the end of the Pre-Nationals race and last Saturday's regional championship.
Who does McDougal expect to challenge for the national title on Monday? "[Northern Arizona's] Lopez [Lomong] and [Oregon's] Galen [Rupp] are the most proven runners in the field. [Texas A&M's] Shadrack Songok won on the track last year, but he hasn't shown cross country credentials yet."
Lomong, who placed fourth at the 2006 national meet, won the Mountain Regional championship in a time of 29:52.1. He has the best raw speed among the race's top contenders, as the Northern Arizona junior won the national outdoor 1,500-meter title and the indoor 3,000-meter crown on the track last season.
Rupp, like McDougal, is seeking the first national championship of a distinguished collegiate career. The Oregon star, a seven-time All-American, placed sixth last season in Terre Haute. He captured the West Regional championship by 10 seconds, last Saturday on his home course in Eugene, Ore.
Songok surprised many observers by outkicking McDougal and Rupp to win the national 10,000-meter race at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He ran the fastest time of any of the regional champions last Saturday, clocking a 29:16.3 at Arkansas, in the South Central Regional.
With so many talented contenders, Monday's race is likely to be decided by who has the best finishing kick in the final kilometer. McDougal has been getting better at that facet of the race as his career has progressed. He displayed his speed while running a 3:57 mile during the 2007 outdoor track season and has used an exceptional kick to close out victories at Pre-Nationals and the Southeast Regional Championships this season.
McDougal's kick at Pre-Nationals, a race held on Oct. 13 at the site of the national meet, enabled him to win the meet title for the third time and reclaim the 8K course record. So, McDougal has experienced success at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute and looks to parlay it into a national championship on Monday.
"We're looking for a good result," noted Tolsma. "Clearly, Josh has a shot to win, but clearly he also has a shot to run very well and still get beat."
"I'm not going to the NCAA meet to finish second," stated McDougal. "I'll be running the full 10K trying to win. This is my last shot."
Fans unable to attend Monday's race in Terre Haute can tune in to the first-ever live coverage of the NCAA Division I National Cross Country Championships. CSTV will televise the meet in its entirety, beginning Monday at noon. The CSTV broadcast will also be streamed via CSTV.com, free of charge.