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DiMercurio wins UGA's season-opening cross country meet

BISHOP — Seniors Brandon Lord and Nicole DiMercurio, a North Gwinnett grad, each won individually and helped the Bulldogs sweep the Georgia Cross Country Invitational for the fifth consecutive year in Bishop on Saturday morning.

The UGA men had the first, second, fourth, fifth and ninth finishers on the 8k course to score 21 points and top Georgia Tech, Mercer and Emmanuel College. On the women’s side, DiMercurio cruised to her first collegiate victory as the Lady Bulldogs went first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth on the 5k course to score 18 points and leave the competition behind.

The first race on the course that winds around the UGA Equestrian Complex was the men’s 8k. Lord trimmed 27 seconds off his time last season and clocked a 25:49.17 for the win. Not only did Lord win the 2012 meet, but he was also third in 2011 and was the second Bulldog to cross the finish line at last year’s NCAA Cross Country Championships where UGA finished a program best 19th.

Six seconds behind Lord was fellow senior Luke Baker, who finished in 25:55.25 to improve his spot one place from 2012.

Trailing the pair of Bulldog seniors were another two Georgia upperclassmen. Junior Zack Sims posted the first top-10 performance of his career to take fourth with a mark of 26:03.72. Opening his career in 2010 with a ninth-place finish at this meet, senior Charlie Sparks took fifth for the second season in a row after finishing in 26:08.52.

The Bulldogs’ final scorer on the day was 2011 All-SEC Freshmen team member Brendan Hoban. Hoban was ninth overall thanks to a time of 26:24.32.

The Georgia women, who advanced last year to their first NCAA Championships since 2007, cruised to a convincing win in their season opener. DiMercurio posted the best performance of her career by running past the 73 other competitors in the field and winning by 15 seconds. She clocked an 18:28.00 after taking fifth at last year’s meet.

"It felt really good,” said DiMercurio. “It was nice to get out here with the whole team. We have a bunch of freshmen, so it was really nice to get out on the course and see how the rest of the season is going to go moving forward. As for me, I'm just focusing on staying strong and looking for the finish line."

The Bulldogs followed DiMercurio’s example and had four out of the next five finishers. A 16th-place finisher at the 2012 UGA home meet, junior Erika Ramsey, a Wesleyan grad, snagged runner-up honors this time around with a time of 18:43.02.

"I thought we all finished really strong as a team today," DiMercurio said. We took the first two miles out strong and tried to stay together, but I think we're working really well together now."

Georgia Tech had the third-place finisher before the UGA women battled for the next three spots. Senior Savannah Kirk also had the top showing of her career after taking fourth (18:57.91). Her previous best finish at the Georgia Cross Country Invitational was 12th in 2010, which was in her first collegiate meet.

Seniors Stella Christoforou and Megan Malasarte, who are middle-distance runners, managed to also score the Lady Bulldogs. Christoforou took fifth with a 19:02.96 as Malasarte was sixth with a 19:06.29. This marked Malasarte’s first collegiate cross country meet as she has earned All-America honors in the 800-meter run on the track.