Arkansas freshman Robinson already a national contender

By: Matt Jones
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2018
Arkansas freshman Katrina Robinson runs at the Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Arkansas Razorbacks
Arkansas freshman Katrina Robinson runs at the Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— As specialization has become more prominent, Arkansas has become a program better known for track & field than cross country.

Specialization is the practice of allocating scholarships with the thought of being dominant in one or two sports, rather than all three - cross country and indoor and outdoor track. It has allowed several schools, including many at altitude, to become cross country staples without challenging much in track & field.

Few have the kind of across-the-board success that made Arkansas and Oregon national powerhouses in all three sports for decades.

But as the NCAA cross country meet nears, don’t count out the Razorbacks’ women. After a surprising first-place finish at the Wisconsin Pre-Nationals in Madison, Wis., earlier this month, Arkansas is a dark horse at the national meet on Nov. 17.

“We raised a lot of people’s eyebrows, like, ‘Whoa, these guys are the real deal,’” Arkansas coach Lance Harter said. “I think it surprised many of my peers.”

The Razorbacks had four top-10 finishers at the Pre-National race and finished with 51 points, 20 points better than second-place Oregon. After the race Arkansas shot up to No. 5 in the national rankings, one spot behind the Ducks. There were two heats at the Pre-Nationals, but no team ran as well as the Razorbacks.

Colorado, the national favorite, did not run its A team at the Pre-National race.

Arkansas’ top finisher was freshman Katrina Robinson, who was second to Oregon senior Jessica Hull. Robinson finished in 20:09.4, which was 6.2 seconds behind Hull

“The start of the race wasn’t super fast,” Robinson said. “No one really took it out, so I was one of the leaders and I wanted to stay relaxed as long as possible. I felt really good, even though it was really cold. With about 2K to go I made a move and the pack started to split up. It was just me and Jess Hull, and she pulled away at the end.

“It was great having her to run with; a fellow Australian as well. I knew that she was a fast finisher and that she was going to be tough to beat. I was trying to run as hard as I could and when she made a move with 1K to go I was trying to stay with her as much as I could. I wasn’t going to give up and then the last part of the race was really hard. I was just trying to dig in.”

It was the latest in a series of impressive finishes for Robinson, who won the Chile Pepper in Fayetteville and finished eighth at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, the Razorbacks’ top finish that day.

“This season has been going well so far,” Robinson said. “I felt really strong. Then we went to Nuttycombe which was a really big race. I learned a lot from that race. Pre-Nats was really good and as a team we had a strong performance.”

Robinson was named the Southeastern Conference runner of the week after the Pre-National race. She was the league’s freshman of the week the week before. Has the early success surprised her?

“Kind of,” she said. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming into it. At Nuttycombe I knew I would up against some really fast girls. Being in the top 10 of that race was a little bit of a surprise and it has helped me with training and has made me more determined.”

Harter has been a little surprised, too.

“She has a very bright future in this business, to say the least,” Harter said. “She’s hungry to get better. I really like the idea that it’s not short-term, but very much long-term in her mind. She’s made quite the impression at the collegiate level already. If she keeps her wits about her and continues to compete like she’s already done, she’s going to have a lot of fun.”

Robinson has dual citizenship, but not in her native Australia. She was born in Austin, Texas, and has U.S. citizenship. She also has citizenship in her parents’ home country of New Zealand.

Robinson’s family moved from Austin back to Australia when she was a baby. She began running at six years old at an Australian track club called Little Athletics.

“Ever since I was little I’ve been participating in fun running events,” said Robinson, who committed to the Razorbacks over Oregon. “At 10, that was when you could start competing at a state and national level.”

Robinson dominated the competition growing up in Brisbane. She was a seven-time national champion, 35-time state champion and won a world cross country championship. At the 2017 Youth Commonwealth Games, Robinson finished second in the 3,000 meters and third in the 1,500 meters. She was eighth at the 2018 World U20 Championships in the 1,500.

“I’ve got a small build, so I’m naturally suited to endurance,” said Robinson, who is 5-foot-6. “I don’t quite have the power of a sprinter.”

But she does have surprising power for her size.

“She is genetically gifted,” Harter said. “If you want to compare her to a race car, she was an incredible engine. She’s petite, but in spite of how she looks externally, she’s very powerful. That combination of her aerobic ability and the power she’s able to generate makes her the ideal distance runner.”

Robinson is expected to challenge at the SEC Cross Country meet in Auburn, Ala., on Friday. The Razorbacks will be going for their sixth consecutive SEC championship, a meet they haven’t lost since 2012.

“It will be relatively mild compared to the courses we’ve run so far this season,” Harter said. “I don’t think it’s overly challenging.

“We will go in as the favorite but anything can happen….When you create a legacy as we’ve done, the upperclassmen of years past try to remind the younger players that it’s your job to continue it. Nobody wants to be the one that breaks it.”

The national meet will be held on Wisconsin’s home course. Harter said it was strategic to have the team run there twice in the regular season, not only to experience the course, but also the weather.

“It was freezing, which was tough for me because in Australia it never gets anywhere close to that cold,” Robinson said. “It was low 30s when we were running, which was very tough. I tried to keep as many layers on as possible. I ran in a headband and gloves, which helped some, but my legs were still numb.”

This story originally appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

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