SEC CROSS COUNTRY MEET:

No. 1 UA women the team to catch

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, November 1, 2019
Arkansas' Taylor Werner comes in to the finish line Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, to win the collegiate women's race during the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival at Agri Park in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Taylor Werner comes in to the finish line Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, to win the collegiate women's race during the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival at Agri Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Today's SEC women's cross country championship race at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., figures to be the Arkansas Derby.

The University of Arkansas is ranked No. 1 nationally and a heavy favorite to win its seventh consecutive SEC title.

SEC CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPiONSHIPS

WHEN Today. Men’s 8,000-meter race at 8 a.m. Women’s 6,000-meter race at 9 a.m.

WHERE Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington, Ky.

DEFENDING CHAMPIONS Men: Ole Miss. Women: Arkansas

TV SEC Network will televise both races live.

NOTEWORTHY The Arkansas women’s team is ranked No. 1 nationally and going for its seventh consecutive SEC title. … Arkansas senior Gilbert Boit, the defending men’s champion, is redshirting and won’t run today.

Ole Miss is the only other SEC team in the NCAA coaches' poll at No. 34.

The Razorbacks' current six-year winning streak from 2013-18 is an SEC record.

"It's been a blast," Arkansas senior Taylor Werner said. "I love the whole process and everything that comes with it.

"It's been so fun to work hard and then we go into races and we're at the very front of the whole pack. I think as long as we do what we've been doing all season, hopefully we'll continue that streak."

Werner is among four returnees for Arkansas who finished in the top 10 at last year's SEC meet when the Razorbacks won with 24 points.

Werner took sixth last year while junior Lauren Gregory was third, senior Karina Viljoen fourth and senior Maddy Reed 10th.

Senior Devin Clark, who finished second at the 2016 SEC meet and is now healthy after battling through some injuries, adds to the Razorbacks' firepower along with senior graduate transfer Katie Izzo.

Katrina Robinson, who took second for the Razorbacks at last year's SEC meet as a freshman, is redshirting this season as she recovers from a hip injury.

"Katrina came in super strong and a lot of us were coming back from injuries, and so I think she set the pace for us and gave us someone to shoot for towards the end of the season," Werner said. "It is a bummer that she's not back, but I think we all got a taste of where we want to be.

"We had a disappointing end to the cross country season [taking 14th at the NCAA meet], and I think there's a big group of us that turned our mentality around and came back in track, and that's carried over into cross country season."

The distance runners helped the Razorbacks sweep national titles in indoor and outdoor track and field last year, and now Arkansas is ranked No. 1 in cross country for the first time.

"I think a lot of people are like, 'That's a lot of pressure,' especially when you get to the national scene," Werner said of the ranking. "But I don't think we feel any of that pressure. It's just more fun for us, and the better we do the more fun it is."

Izzo, who transferred from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, has become Arkansas' No. 2 runner behind Werner.

"Katie Izzo has probably been the greatest surprise in the NCAA," Razorbacks Coach Lance Harter said. " Last year she was always just trying to stay healthy. Our medical team has done a phenomenal job of putting her back together.

"She's always had great competitive instincts. She just didn't have the wheels to roll with everybody. She does now and she's not going to let anybody get away."

Today's women's 6,000-meter race starts at 9 a.m. Central time and will be televised live on the SEC Network.

"Any time our sport can get live TV we're going to celebrate it and try to put out a good product," Harter said. "I know our team is going to try and take advantage of the opportunity."

Werner said she's excited family and friends will be able to watch the Razorbacks run on television.

"That's something I probably won't think about during the race," she said. "But it will be kind of cool to go back and be able to watch and see my team hopefully dominate."

Sports on 11/01/2019

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