Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
UA cross country season begins this week
Carina Viljoen (left) and Taylor Werner embrace Saturday Sept. 22, 2018, after finishing the collegiate women's 5K race at the 30th annual Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Saturday morning at Tulsa, the University of Arkansas commences its cross country season with Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men aiming to reclaim what’s customarily theirs while Coach Lance Harter’s women aim for what they’ve never won.
Retired Arkansas men’s 42-times national championship legend John McDonnell consecutively coached the Razorbacks to Southwest Conference cross country championships from 1974-1990 and SEC Cross Country championships from 1991 through his final 2007 cross country campaign.
Bucknam’s Razorbacks won the SEC cross country title from 2010-17.
Ole Miss interrupted, 36-44, last year.
Coaching Arkansas’ women through their entire SEC tenure, Harter’s teams have won 19 SEC cross country titles, the last six consecutively.
While never taking a SEC championship for granted, Harter knows something like last year’s 24-69 SEC victory margin will be predicted for Arkansas at the SEC Championships Nov. 1 in Lexington, Ky.
Coming off consecutive NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field titles, increasing to four their national track championships, the UA women aim to win NCAA cross country Nov. 23 at Terre Haute, Ind.
It wouldn’t be a single academic year cross country, Indoor, outdoor triple crown like their SEC triple crown for 2018-19, but it would be a national triple crown in the Razorbacks’ book consecutively winning the three NCAA championship events.
“That would be a dream come true,” Harter said. “That’s the elusive one, cross country nationals. We’ve been second many times and third. We’ve got a pretty potent lineup that I think can compete at the national level if everybody stays healthy.”
With Razorbacks Katrina Robinson, Lauren Gregory, Carina Viljoen, Taylor Werner and Maddy Reed, respectively second, third, fourth, sixth and 10th at last year’s SEC meet, returning with senior All-American Devin Clark, who injury-rehabbed last fall, plus touted newcomers, Harter’s Hogs appear in the hunt with national women’s favorites New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina State and Stanford.
Bucknam’s quest in Lexington to reclaim the SEC throne begins with Gilbert Boit, last year’s initially unheralded junior transfer from Tennessee Tech named SEC Runner of the Year after winning SEC cross country, winning the SEC Indoor 5,000 and scoring 18 SEC outdoor points with first in the 5,000 and second in the 10,000.
“It does help having that go-to guy,” Bucknam said. “No question about it.”
Behind Boit, Bucknam relies on SEC 2017 cross country Freshman of the Year Matt Young and 2016 SEC cross country Freshman of the Year Carter Persyn returning healthy to meet their potential, along with sophomore Ryan Murphy, ninth in 2018 SEC cross country.
“A lot has changed with our guys physically and emotionally since the SEC Cross Country Championships last year,” Bucknam said.
Saturday’s tuneup in Tulsa mostly will be without their best runners training for the long 2019-20 cross country schedule into track seasons, Harter and Bucknam said.
Both coaches plan running full teams best Oct. 5 at the Arkansas-hosted Chile Pepper Festival.
On Nov. 15, Arkansas hosts the South Central Regional, the national-qualifying gateway to Terre Haute.
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