LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Outside of a trip to the NCAA Championships, the Belmont men's and women's cross country teams aren't likely to see a level of competition that matches Saturday's this year.
With programs from across the country flocking to the Greater Louisville Classic, the same site as NCAA Nationals in November, a very deep and talented troop of runners will welcome the Bruins at Louisville's Tom Sawyer State Park course.
Running in the Gold women's elite race at 9:15 a.m. (Central) will be 43 teams. The Gold men's elite race at 8:30 a.m. (Central) has 37 teams entered, including the No. 1 ranked program in the country right now, Northern Arizona.
"It's a totally different race than any other race we'll be in because of its size," Belmont program director Jeff Langdon said. "You've got to go out hard or you get blocked. You just can't get around people. We're going to try and go at it a little bit quicker than we normally do just so we're in a decent position."
The men will cover 8,000 meters at Sawyer Park while the women's race is set for 5,000.
Langdon said he wants to continue to see his women's team push itself as a pack after strong showings by its front-runners in the first two races this season.
"We want to continue that mentality of finding each other as best as you can, running as a tight pack," he began. "I'm also expecting a couple of these girls to step it up to the next level. This is their opportunity to see great competition and get in there and go after it."
Managing perspective will be important because of that elevated level of competition. It was the same scenario in 2015 when Belmont last raced at Louisville, when the Cardinals again welcomed a great number of talented entrants wanting to see that year's NCAA Nationals course.
Louisville hosted Nationals in 2012 and 2015.
"The guys know the course; most of them have run this course," Langdon said. "They think they can run fast times which can be a confidence builder, but at the same time if they don't it can be demoralizing. Whatever happens this week we've got to refocus them on the real goals which are coming up in the next few weeks."
Only one regular season race remains after Saturday, Alabama's Crimson Classic on Oct. 13, before the postseason schedule begins with the Ohio Valley Conference meet on Oct. 28.
LAST TIME OUT
The Belmont men finished fifth at Vanderbilt's Commodore Classic on Sept. 16 at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. Redshirt sophomore Kaleb McLeod and senior Matt Edwards raced to the finish line to take fifth and sixth, respectively, with times of 25:09.0 and 25:10.9. Senior Matt Blivin was the next-best finisher for the Bruins in 26th at 25:50.5.
The Belmont women took eighth at the Commodore Classic, led by top finisher Jessica King. The senior placed 32nd with a time of 18:19.0 The Bruins' next finishers were sophomore Kortney Schardt in 41st at 18:24.6 and Kiera Weems in 46th at 18:31.3.
Along with being the deepest field Belmont may face all season, the Greater Louisville Classic features perhaps the most talented. Seven men's teams are ranked in this week's USTFCCCA Division I National Coaches' Poll, including No. 1 Northern Arizona. Five more women's teams appear in this week's rankings. Of course that doesn't include Grand Valley State, the No. 1 women's program and No. 2 men's team in the Division II poll.
GOLD RACE MEN'S FIELD (National rank)
Boise St. (26)
Grand Valley St. [D2]
Middle Tennessee St. (20)
Northern Arizona (1)
Rogers St. [D2]
Virginia Tech (24)
GOLD RACE WOMEN'S FIELD (National rank)
Boise St. (13)
College of Charleston
Grand Valley St. [D2]
Middle Tennessee St.