NCAA SOUTH CENTRAL REGIONAL CROSS COUNTRY:

Arkansas covering all its bases

By: The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Published: Friday, November 9, 2012
Arkansas’ Eric Fernandez, who advanced to the NCAA national cross country meet last season, will lead the 10th-ranked Razorbacks in the NCAA South Central Regional in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas’ Eric Fernandez, who advanced to the NCAA national cross country meet last season, will lead the 10th-ranked Razorbacks in the NCAA South Central Regional in Fayetteville.

— Arkansas doesn’t want to leave anything to chance this time.

Arkansas plays host to the NCAA South Central Regional today at the Agri Park cross country course in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks’ men’s team is looking to nail down a spot in the NCAA Championships that will be held Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.

The top two teams from the nine regional meets and 13 at-large teams make up the NCAA Championships field, but the Razorbacks would rather take care of things today after they finished third in the regional meet last season and failed to receive an at-large bid and was left out of the national championship field for the first time since 1973.

Arkansas won the SEC men’s championship Oct. 26 and is one of the favorites to advance today out of the regional, which is comprised of teams from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. The Razorbacks will be led by Eric Fernandez, who advanced to the national meet last season, and Solomon Haile, who finished second at the SEC meet behind Texas A&M’s Henry Lelei.

“The win at the SEC meet kicked off our championship season,” Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. “I said before that the SEC meet was the most important meet of the year, but now this regional becomes the most important meet of the year.

“This serves as a preliminary round to get into the final, which is the NCAA Championships. The goal is to qualify.”

Arkansas is ranked 10th nationally and second in the South Central Region behind defending region champion Texas, which is ranked fifth nationally. Texas A&M, which edged out Arkansas for second last season at the regional, is coming off a third-place finish at the SEC Championship and is ranked third in the region.

The meet also features three other conference champions. UALR , the Sun Belt Conference champion, is ranked 13th in the regional, while McNeese State (Southland Conference) is fourth in the region and Texas-Arlington (Western Athletic Conference) is sixth in the region.

Central Arkansas is ranked 10th in the region and is coming off a fifth-place finish at the Southland Conference meet. Arkansas State is coming off a ninth-place finish in the Sun Belt meet.

Arkansas’ women’s team is the defending South Central Region champion and is coming off a second-place finish at the SEC meet. The Razorbacks are ranked 12th nationally and No. 1 in the region and are led by Grace Heymsfield, who finished fifth at the SEC meet.

Texas is ranked No. 22 nationally and second in the region and is coming off a third-place finish in the Big 12 Conference meet, while SMU, the Conference USA champion, is ranked third in the region. SEC members LSU and Texas A&M round out the region’s top five.

Arkansas State is ranked ninth in the region following its runner-up finish in the Sun Belt Conference meet, and UALR is coming off a seventh-place finish in the conference meet. Central Arkansas is coming off a fifthplace finish in the Southland Conference meet.

“The course is in great shape and the weather is supposed to be perfect,” said Lance Harter, Arkansas’ women’s coach. “We’re looking forward to some great headto-head competition.”

At a glance

WHEN Today WHERE Agri Park course in Fayetteville SCHEDULE Women’s 6,000 meters: 11 a.m. Men’s 10,000 meters: 12:15 p.m. DEFENDING CHAMPION Men: Texas. Women: Arkansas FAVORITES Men: Arkansas, Texas, Texas A&M. Women: Arkansas, Texas, SMU. NOTEWORTHY The top two teams and top four individuals who are not on an advancing team receive automatic berths into the NCAA Championships on Nov. 17 in Louisville, Ky.

Sports, Pages 21 on 11/09/2012

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