As the final stretch of the cross country season begins, the Tennessee cross country team isn’t focusing on the possibility of competing for the NCAA national championships just yet.

First, they have to qualify, and the squad will have its chance on Friday, Nov. 11, as they travel to Tallahassee, Florida for the NCAA South Region Championship.

“At the NCAA Championships, the finals, there’s thirty-one teams,” Tennessee director of track and field and cross country Beth Alford-Sullivan said. “We have about 310 schools that host cross country. About 10 percent of the teams get to the national championship. But you get there through your regional championship.

“We’re in the South Region. On the same day, approximately around the same time, everybody races in their regional championship, and you qualify into the national championships at that meet.”

The Volunteers will look toward their standout runners to give them a boost on Friday. Juniors Andre Hillsman and Nick Brey finished second and third for Tennessee at the SEC Championship on Oct. 28 and could provide a spark at Tallahassee.

Freshman Megan Murray. who will look to continue her breakout season performance, and sophomore Peighton Meske, who has also shown out well for the Volunteers this year, will be competing as individuals on Friday. Murray and Meske both recorded top 6K times earlier this season at the Crimson Classic.

“We go in one; the men’s side ranked, I think, ninth in our region,” Alford-Sullivan said. “So this young group is very focused on trying to stay in the top ten and have a good performance. But we also move distance for the men. We go from five miles or eight thousand meters to a full ten thousand meters. So it changes.

“No one has really raced a ten thousand all season, so you kind of go in there and you might have a great day and end up a little better than you thought or you might have a day where that extra two-K really takes its toll on you. So it’s a great experience, especially for these young squads, the men and women. Just so young. They need to get down there and race.”

Another key runner for the men is Zach Long. The sophomore has finished first for Tennessee in each of the season’s five meets.

Tennessee will compete at Apalachee Regional Park on Friday. The women’s 6K race will begin at 8:30 a.m. ET, while the men’s 10K race kicks off at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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