Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
NCAA CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS:
UA champing at bit in NCAAs
Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam (center) and the Razorbacks are ranked 11th nationally heading into Saturday’s race.
FAYETTEVILLE It’s more than five months before the Kentucky Derby, but Louisville, Ky., will be the site of some major races Saturday.
The NCAA men’s and women’s cross country championships are being held in Louisville for the first time at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, with Arkansas having teams in both races.
“There are so many similarities between a horse race and this race that it’s incredible,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “It’s like pushing those horses into the [starting gate]. Some walk in cool as a cucumber and others go in kicking.
“You’ve got those kind of guys on our team, too. ... You’ve got every type of runner in this race, from milers to 10K guys, guys that aren’t so fast on the track, but they’re just tough on a cross country course.
“Everybody’s vulnerable in this race, but the sky is the limit for all of us. It’s just a matter of having five guys that want to rise to the occasion and have their best race of the year.”
The SEC champion Razorbacks come into the men’s race ranked 11th nationally after being No. 23 to open the season.
“That gives you an idea of how our guys have progressed,” Bucknam said.
Arkansas will be led by seniors Eric Fernandez, Lane Nixon and Cameron Efurd, juniors Solomon Haile, Kemoy Campbell and David Flynn and freshman Cale Wallace.
Fernandez has healed up, Bucknam said, after rolling his left ankle a few minutes before last weekend’s NCAA South Central Regional. Fernandez still ran the race and finished eighth to help the Razorbacks advance.
“If it was going to happen to anybody, I’m glad it happened to Eric because he just seems to have that football mentality about him,” Bucknam said. “He shook it off and ran fast.”
Arkansas’ women’s team, which finished second to Florida at the SEC meet, is ranked 12th nationally. The Razorbacks are led by senior Semehar Tesfaye, sophomores Grace Heymsfield and Diane Robison, and freshman Andrina Schlaepfer.
“We’re not going in with a lot of experience,” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said. “I hope we stay nice and relaxed and think about having everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
At a glance WHEN Saturday: 11 a.m. women’s race, 12:15 p.m. men’s race WHERE E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, Louisville, Ky.
WHO Top teams from across the nation, including Arkansas men’s and women’s teams MEN’S FAVORITES Oklahoma State, Stanford, Iona, Wisconsin; Arkansas ranked 11th WOMEN’S FAVORITES Florida, Oregon, Iowa State, Stanford; Arkansas ranked 12th
Sports, Pages 21 on 11/16/2012