Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas-Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Tough test awaits Razorbacks in Wisconsin
No. 6 men, No. 8 women among nation's best at weekend meet
Arkansas' Men's Cross Country team takes off at the start of the 25th annual Chile Pepper Cross County Festival Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE The biggest test of the regular season for the No. 6 Arkansas men's cross country team will come this weekend at the Adidas Wisconsin Invitational.
The Razorbacks are one of 16 ranked teams at the event, including five of the nation's top eight teams ranked by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Arkansas first raced as a full team two weeks ago at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, finishing first place on a muddy course ahead of No. 23 Villanova.
Senior Kemoy Campbell finished second at the Chile Pepper, about 8 seconds behind defending national champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech. Campbell's strong showing, as well as top 5 finishes by Stanley Kebenei and Solomon Haile, has Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam optimistic about his team heading into this weekend.
"We're really good upfront," Bucknam said. "We've got a lot of talent with our big three. Kemoy Campbell proved at the Chile Pepper he's one of the best there is in the NCAA right now, running real close with Kennedy Kithuka. I think Stanley is an athlete that is every bit as good as Kemoy and can be a factor, and I think Solomon is every bit as good as Kemoy and Stanley. The Chile Pepper was his first race, so I think this second race you're going to see a big improvement and a lot closer to those front-runners.
"We have good depth. We just have to put it together and run good at the same time. This is the penultimate meet going into the SEC meet, so we really need to kind of unleash the hounds and see what we can do."
In addition to its toughest test, the race will be Arkansas' final tuneup before the SEC meet in Gainesville, Fla. on Nov. 1. The Razorbacks were a unanimous choice in the preseason to repeat as league cross country champions, a title they have won the last three years and 37 of the last 39.
"That's one of the things we always win and one of the events we always want to do our best in," Campbell said. "It would be great to win the SEC so we can get the triple crown once more. That's one of the goals we want to accomplish."
Arkansas' women, ranked No. 8 in the latest USTFCCCA poll, will also travel to Wisconsin. The Razorbacks will be one of 13 ranked teams on the women's side, including seven of the top 10.
Arkansas finished with the top four finishers and eight of the top 10 at the Chile Pepper. Grace Heymsfield, a redshirt junior, won the 5K race with a time of 16:55:8 and was named SEC runner of the week.
The Razorbacks' women were also the preseason pick to win the SEC meet next month at Florida.