NCAA SOUTH REGIONAL WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY:

Clark takes over, leads UA victory

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, November 12, 2016
Arkansas sophomore Devin Clark leads the pack during the NCAA South Central Cross Country Regional on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in Fayetteville.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Arkansas sophomore Devin Clark leads the pack during the NCAA South Central Cross Country Regional on Friday, Nov. 11, 2016, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas sophomore Devin Clark was nervous going into this cross country season about taking over for Dominique Scott as the Razorbacks' top runner.

Scott won three consecutive SEC cross country titles, capped her college career by winning the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, was a 12-time All-American and ran for South Africa in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Kind of a tough act to follow.

"I was scared to death coming into this year," Clark said. "I had huge shoes to fill.

"Dom was such a great teammate and leader. I'm just trying to lead by example and hopefully my teammates follow me."

That's what happened Friday at the NCAA South Central Regional meet.

Clark won the 6,000-meter race in 20 minutes, 17.4 seconds and the No. 7-ranked Razorbacks placed all seven of their runners in the top 20 as Arkansas won the team title with 48 points at its Agri Park course and advanced automatically to the NCAA meet next Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind.

Baylor finished second with 64 points to earn the regional's other automatic NCAA meet bid. Arkansas State was 17th with 451 points.

"We did what we needed to do and got through the race as casually as possible," Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said. "With an eight-day turnaround, that's really demanding, and so we were able to have the luxury of holding out two of our big guns and still use our depth to our advantage."

Arkansas juniors Therese Haiss and Nikki Hiltz were held out Friday, but will compete at the NCAA meet.

"Those two are more 1,500-meter types," Harter said. "So we wanted to make sure they're as fresh as possible for the national meet."

The Razorbacks' other finishers Friday were freshman Taylor Werner (fifth), senior Regan Ward (11th), freshmen Carina Viljoen (15th) and Abby Gray (16th), sophomore Sydney Brown (18th) and senior Valerie Reina (20th).

It was Arkansas' sixth consecutive regional title and 21st overall with the first in 1982.

"I wasn't even born when Arkansas starting winning titles," said Clark, 19. "To be a part of that tradition is really huge for all of us."

Clark won her first race of the season after taking second in the SEC meet behind Missouri senior Karissa Schweizer to lead Arkansas to the team title two weeks ago.

"The SEC meet didn't go exactly the way I wanted it to," Clark said. "So I think I really needed this race to build up my confidence a little bit."

Clark started pulling away from Baylor's Maggie Montoya and Lindsey Bradley -- who finished second and third -- with about 2,000 meters left.

"I decided to drop the hammer a little bit," Clark said. "Doing that is definitely out of my comfort zone, but I think races like this help me grow as a runner."

Harter said it was good to see Clark be assertive.

"I told her, 'If you want to sit tight and carry it into the finish, or if you want to put a move on somebody, that's up to you,' " Harter said. "She's such a mature runner that we wanted to let her have that luxury of doing whatever she wanted."

Harter said Clark has done a good job taking over as a team leader with Scott moving on to a professional running career.

"It's not in Devin's nature to speak up a lot, but she's taken on that new responsibility and she's doing really well," Harter said. "We're going to count on her for the next couple years."

Sports on 11/12/2016

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