Ryan Hagen and Rachel Ward may be hearing some footsteps as they try to repeat their men’s and women’s titles in the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k on Saturday.

The race will serve as the Collegiate Running Association’s national championship 10k road race for the fifth consecutive year. Steve Taylor, CRA co-founder and the University of Richmond men’s cross country coach, believes this could be the CRA’s strongest field.

The CRA awards NCAA-sanctioned cash prizes to the top 10 male and female finishers who currently are enrolled in at least one college class. Race winners receive $2,000. Runners-up receive $1,000.

Hagen, a graduate student at Mary Baldwin and former Virginia Tech standout, won the 6.2-mile race in 30:37 last year.

He’ll likely have competition from Georgia Tech’s Matt McDonald, who has run 29:38 in the 10k; Arkansas’ Cale Wallace, who earned second-team all-SEC honors in the steeplechase; Auburn’s Samuel Mueller, who has run 29:49 in the 10k and placed fifth in the 2015 Collegiate Half Marathon national championships; and Youngstown State’s Ryan Roush, who has run 29:25 in the 10k. Also in the mix will be three UR runners — Richmond native Miles Clikeman, Tim Gruber and Johnny Hogue — Ohio University’s Joshua Park and James Madison’s Harrison Toney.

Ward, a graduate student at Virginia, ran away from the women’s field last year, winning by 52 seconds in 35:55. She was 15th in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team trials in the 10k.

Challengers include West Virginia’s Clara Santucci, who has two top ten finishes in World Marathon major championships, was seventh in the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials in 2012 and has run under 33 minutes in the 10k; Northern Virginia Community College’s Bethany Sachtleben, who won the 2017 Anthem Richmond Marathon and has run under 33 minutes in the 10k; and Campbell’s Letitia Saayman, who was second in the 2017 Markel Richmond Half Marathon.

Others in the mix: Emory’s Janel Blancett, Metropolitan College of Nebraska’s Maddie Ivey, Sandhills College’s Emily Potter, VCU’s Taylor Clevinger (St. Catherine’s), Lauren Moring, Jackie Morgan and Meghan Beard; Virginia Wesleyan’s Emily Latimer; Virginia Tech’s Hayley Billingsley; and James Madison’s Stephanie Cario.

Taylor said almost 2,000 college students have entered, with a mix of competitive and social runners.

Note: With temperatures expected to be in the mid-70s late in the race, event organizer Sports Backers is advising runners and walkers to take proper heat and hydration precautions.

Water will be available at four stops along the course, as well as the start and finish lines.

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