Matt McClintock’s collegiate cross country career will come full circle on Saturday, and not because the course he’ll be seeking a national championship on is a 5-kilometer loop.

McClintock, of Athens, will be racing in his fourth NCAA Division I men’s cross country championship in Louisville, Kentucky. The meet is being held at Tom Sawyer State Park on the same course where the Purdue University senior tasted his first NCAA national competition as a freshman in the 2012 championship.

He enters the 10-kilometer race not only hoping to earn All-American status for the third time in his cross country career but also refusing to rule out a run at his first national title.

“I’m just trying to stay calm as possible right now,” McClintock said as he began the three-hour drive from the West Lafayette, Indiana to Louisville on Thursday. “I don’t want to get too nervous. I just want to enjoy the opportunity again.”

McClintock qualified for nationals last Friday with his second-place finish in the Great Lakes Regional in Madison, Wisconsin. That made him one of 38 individuals selected to participate from nine regions. The race also features 31 teams consisting of seven runners apiece who qualified at regionals.

Edward Cheserek, a University of Oregon junior, is the two-time defending national champion. Between cross country and track and field, he’s won eight national titles (two cross country, six track).

McClintock finished 22 seconds behind Cheserek to place 19th overall at last year’s nationals, which took place in Terra Haute, Ind.

“He’s definitely the overwhelming favorite,” McClintock said. “He’s very fast and he’s won a lot of national championships. I’m not going to say I’ll beat him, but I’m also not going to say he’s unbeatable, either. The only ones who are unbeatable are the ones you think are unbeatable.”

“I’m just going to give the best effort I can and hopefully go back to Purdue as an All-American again,” said McClintock, who became Purdue’s first All-American in 26 years when he finished 37th at the 2013 championships.

There will be plenty of other competition besides Cheserek, including McClintock’s friendly Big Ten rival, Mason Ferlic, who has staged two tough battles with the Madison High School graduate in their last two races. Ferlic was McClintock’s runner-up at the conference championship meet, then edged him by a little over two seconds for first place at regionals.

“Big Ten guys are always within a second or two of each other,” said McClintock, who broke the 8-kilometer meet record at the Big Ten championships and was named the conference’s male cross country athlete of the year. “Mason and I run off each other in big meets like this. You might even help each other out a little bit.”

Facing the prospect of running back-to-back 10k races, McClintock made sure not to over-extend himself at regionals or during training this week. But he also believes he is more physically and mentally prepared than he has ever been for the rigors of the race.

He said the Louisville course, on which he finished 103rd out of 245 runners as a freshman, is a difficult, hard-packed track. It is unusually narrow, particularly at the start, so there will be a lot of jockeying for position early.

“It’s very fast but it can be a bit rough,” he said of the course.

The University of Louisville is hosting the race, which is scheduled to start at approximately 1 p.m. The NCAA will have a live webcast starting with the women’s race at noon through the conclusion of the awards ceremony on NCAA.com.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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