Arkansas cross country teams shooting for top two

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, November 15, 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 -- Five University of Arkansas seniors will run their final home cross country race for the Razorbacks' No. 1-ranked women's team at today's NCAA South Central Regional at the UA's Agri Park course.

The women's 6,000 meters race begins at 11 a.m. with the men's 10,000 scheduled for noon.

NCAA South Central Cross Country Regional

WHEN Today. Women’s 6,000 meters race at 11 a.m. Men’s 10,000 meters race at noon

WHERE University of Arkansas Agri Park Course

ADMISSION Free

AT STAKE Top two teams in each race automatically advance to the NCAA Championships

Seniors leading the Arkansas women are Taylor Werner, Katie Izzo, Devin Clark, Carina Viljoen and Maddy Reed.

Viljoen's parents are traveling from their home in South Africa to watch their daughter run.

"Obviously, it's really nice to be at home and get a chance to run in front of family and friends," Razorbacks Coach Lance Harter said. "It's going to be a great opportunity for people to watch the No. 1 team in the nation wearing a Razorback jersey. That'll be extra special."

Harter said he plans to rest junior Lauren Gregory today because she came back this fall from a foot injury, but that the Razorbacks won't take today's race lightly.

The top two teams in both races automatically advance to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind.

Arkansas' main competition in the women's race figures to come from Texas, which is ranked No. 31. Arkansas State University, the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock also have teams running today.

"I've reminded our kids that there are going to be people running for their lives, so you've got to respect them," said Harter, whose Razorbacks won their seventh consecutive SEC title with 21 points. "We'll go out and probably follow for a while and then later in the race we'll make a decision to put the hammer down and put everybody away."

Arkansas will be looking to win its ninth consecutive regional title and 24th overall.

"We've had a phenomenal season, and we're healthy," Harter said. "So my message to our kids is, 'Let's go out there and race.' If we don't, I'm going to make them do a hard tempo run anyway."

Arkansas' men's team has beaten Texas to win the last six regional titles by an average of 17.8 points, but the Longhorns are ranked No. 29 this year while the Razorbacks are No. 38.

"Texas is ranked ahead of us, so they're the team to beat," Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. "Then it's a toss-up between us and Texas A&M."

The Razorbacks finished third at the SEC meet with 121 points -- led by junior Matt Young taking seventh -- with defending champion Gilbert Boit redshirting. The Aggies were fifth with 141 points.

"We beat Texas A&M at the conference meet, but they weren't too far behind us," Bucknam said. "There's nothing to take for granted this year.

"We need to have our A game in order for us to be in the top two. It's not a given. We're going to need to have a really good race to qualify for nationals."

Arkansas has won 38 regional titles.

"A lot of times it's been a given we were going to get first or second," Bucknam said. "But this isn't one of those years. We're just going to have to run smart and tough."

Sports on 11/15/2019

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