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 women's cross country team poised to make history
Arkansas runners Taylor Werner (front left), Katie Izzo (front right), Devin Clark (back left) and Carina Viljoen (back right) are shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Saturday in Terre Haute, Ind., the University of Arkansas could become the first women's program completing a calendar year winning the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor Track and NCAA Cross Country national championship triple crown.
Only Oregon and Texas, once each encompassing a fall semester/spring semester academic year, have won the women's collegiate triple crown.
Retired Arkansas coach John McDonnell's Razorbacks won the men's national triple crown almost routinely during his unprecedented run of 42 men's NCAA Indoor, Outdoor and Cross Cross Country championships.
Lance Harter, becoming the McDonnell-coaching version for women's track and cross country, has coached all four national championships amassed in all of UA women's athletics. His teams have won two each in NCAA Indoor and Outdoor track, including last March and last June.
His SEC champion/NCAA South Central Regional Cross Country champion Razorbacks are nationally ranked No. 1 going into Saturday's championship race in Terre Haute.
Harter saw this cross country potential last spring.
"I just knew last year as the track season evolved that we had a lot of positive momentum," Harter said. "You'd just see little snippets of bright light and you'd go, 'If this happens and this happens, we could be one heck of a cross country team next fall."
It has happened, though not exactly how he envisioned.
Katrina Robinson, Harter's best 2018 cross country runner while a freshman flash, redshirts injured this fall.
"If we had her, oh my gosh!" Harter said.
It's been "oh my gosh" even without her. Not only without Robinson, but often without junior top-five runner Lauren Gregory. Gregory was sidelined on and off with a painful foot stress reaction. She's close to full tilt for Saturday after sitting out Arkansas' first-through-fifth South Central Regional qualifying sweep last Friday.
Gregory's absences actually deepened the team. Senior Maddy Reed had to come on as the fifth and final scorer.
She's done so admirably including passing several in the stretch at last Friday's meet to complete Arkansas' sweep at the South Central Regional that Arkansas hosted.
Harter always knew what three of his top four -- senior All-American letter-winners Taylor Werner, Carina Viljoen and Devin Clark -- could do.
Nobody could have known what graduate transfer Katie Izzo of Cal Poly San Luis-Obispo would do. Seldom at Cal Poly-SLO able to train very long without foot injuries, Izzo at Harter's urging got advice from Dr. Dan Fulmer, a retired podiatrist and former UA team doctor, who was lecturing in California. Between the Dr. Fulmer-prescribed exercises and Harter's coaching and training, Izzo does what she's never done.
"Her first cross country race to win ever was the SEC meet," Harter said.
How the team has taken to Izzo and all take to each other manifested in Werner, Izzo, Viljoen and Clark crossing the winning finish together last Friday.
"It made for a cool photo," Clark said.
They know the coolest would be if snapped atop the first-place podium in Terre Haute.
Sports on 11/20/2019
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