NCAA CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS:

Tough conditions await Arkansas

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, November 19, 2016
Frankline Tonui (from left), Alex George and Jack Bruce approach the finish line Friday, November 11, 2016, at the NCAA South Regional at the Agri Park course in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won the overall team title.
Photo by David Gottschalk
Frankline Tonui (from left), Alex George and Jack Bruce approach the finish line Friday, November 11, 2016, at the NCAA South Regional at the Agri Park course in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won the overall team title.

FAYETTEVILLE -- After training and racing in warm and sunny weather most of the cross country season, Arkansas' men's and women's teams are expected to encounter some tough conditions at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

The temperature is forecast to be about 35 degrees for today's races -- 10 a.m. Central time for the women and 11 a.m. for the men -- with overcast skies and winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour at the LaVern Gibson Course.

NCAA CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS

WHEN Today. Women’s 6,000-meter race 10 a.m. Central time. Men’s 10,000-meter race 11 a.m.

WHERE Terre Haute, Ind.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS Women: New Mexico. Men: Syracuse

WOMEN’S FAVORITES Colorado, North Carolina State, Providence, Stanford.

MEN’S FAVORITES Northern Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, BYU

ARKANSAS Women ranked No. 9, men No. 6.

The course also may be soggy after rain Friday.

"We don't race the weather and we don't race the course," Arkansas men's Coach Chris Bucknam said. "We're racing the other athletes that are in this thing, and that's what we're focused on.

"No matter what the weather dishes out, our guys are going to be ready to compete at a high level."

Arkansas' men's team is ranked No. 6 nationally and the women's team No. 9 after they both swept SEC and NCAA South Central Regional titles at home.

"This course was actually constructed over the top of an old garbage dump," Razorbacks women's Coach Lance Harter said. "It has a liner over the top of it and then they brought the dirt in over that, so when it rains substantially, the water can get trapped.

"It can make for a very muddy course. We've been running on fast surfaces the whole season, so I hope we can adapt quickly."

The Arkansas men will be led by senior Franklin Tonui and juniors Alex George, Jack Bruce, Austen Dalquist and sophomore Andrew Ronoh. All five have led the Razorbacks in races over the last two seasons.

"The key is to have all those guys kill it on this one day," Bucknam said. "That's what we're going to try to do.

"It's going to take an outstanding race by all of our athletes. This is not a meet where two or three people can carry the load. It's going to be all hands on deck."

Sophomore Cameron Griffith and senior Kyle Hosting also have a chance to be among Arkansas' five scorers.

"I think our guys are feeling confident," Bucknam said. "We're ready to go."

The Razorbacks have won 11 men's NCAA championships, with the last in 2000. They haven't finished among the top four teams -- which earn trophies -- since a second-place finished in 2005. They were sixth last year.

"It's about winning the meet," Bucknam said. "We're focused on the top of that podium. That's what we're going for, and we'll see what happens."

Arkansas' women's team has been led all season by sophomore Devin Clark, who won the South Central Regional title and was second at the SEC meet. Also running for the Razorbacks are seniors Valerie Reina and Regan Ward, juniors Therese Haiss and Nikki Niltz and freshmen Abby Gray and Taylor Werner.

Gray and Werner have been among Arkansas' top finishers this season and Harter said it's asking a lot of them to help carry the team in their first NCAA meet.

"If we had a podium finish the rest of the world would stop," Harter said. "I think we're in the top 10. That would be a great finish for us."

Harter has led Arkansas to 10 top-10 finishes since 1991, including ninth last year when the Razorbacks were led by three-time All-American Dominque Scott, who is now running professionally.

Four times Harter has led Arkansas to second-place finishes in 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1999. He hopes to add a cross country national title to the NCAA championships his track teams won indoors in 2015 and outdoors in 2016.

"I think the caliber of talent we have on campus and are bringing to campus in the future definitely puts us in a situation to be a factor as far as winning down the road," Harter said. "It might be a year, it might be two years. But we definitely have that capability."

Sports on 11/19/2016

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