Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
It's a sweep: Arkansas wins NCAA cross country title to cap historic 2019
Arkansas runners celebrate after being presented their trophies for winning the women's NCAA Division I Cross-Country Championship, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Terre Haute, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)
The University of Arkansas women’s cross country team accomplished a feat Saturday that only two other programs had accomplished before the Razorbacks.
With their victory at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., the Razorbacks completed a three-season sweep of team national titles in running sports - cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field.
Arkansas won indoor and outdoor NCAA titles earlier this year, and the Razorbacks scored 96 points in the cross country meet Saturday to edge second-place BYU (102).
Oregon during the 2016-17 academic year and Texas during the 1986 calendar year were the only other women’s teams to win the three NCAA meets consecutively.
“It’s such rarified air considering the history of the NCAA,” Arkansas coach Lance Harter said. “It’s extra special that we can add that to our resume.”
Katie Izzo and Taylor Werner led the Razorbacks with third- and fourth-place finishes, respectively, with times of 19:59.3 and 20:11.1 in the 6,000-meter race.
New Mexico’s Weini Kelati won the race in 19:47.5. Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson was second in 19:57.1.
Izzo and Werner drastically improved their results from the cross country national meet a year ago. Werner finished 81st in 2018, one place ahead of Izzo, who was running for Cal Poly at the time.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Izzo said of winning the title. “It was just the most incredible feeling. We had the goal from the beginning of the season to win.
“I’m trying to think of a caption for my Instagram post to describe my feelings, and I can’t even do it. It’s just too good to be true.”
Arkansas entered the NCAA race No. 1 in the national coaches’ poll, two places ahead of BYU, but the Razorbacks and Cougars had not run in the same race all year.
BYU runners Courtney Wayment, Erica Birk and Whittni Orton finished fifth, sixth and seventh to put the Cougars in good position, but the Razorbacks accumulated a lower point total with finishes of 21st by Devin Clark, 28th by Carina Viljoen and 72nd by Lauren Gregory.
Izzo, Werner, Clark and Viljoen are seniors. Gregory is a junior.
BYU’s two lowest scorers were Olivia Hoj in 56th and Anna Camp in 60th.
The Cougars had a sizable lead on the Razorbacks and the rest of the field at 2,000 meters, but Arkansas made its move between the 2K and 4K markers.
“They followed the race plan and never lost composure,” Harter said. “There was no panic….The race plan was just to try to be in position at 4K.
“From 4K to 6K, all five of them picked off one person here, one person there and I think that was the difference in the margin, to give us the win.”
It was the first cross country national championship for Arkansas’ women, whose previous best result was runner-up four times in the 1990s. Harter won eight consecutive NCAA Division II cross country titles at Cal Poly between 1982-89.
Harter said to win Arkansas’ first cross country championship was special, especially given the practice by most other schools of allocating their scholarships in such a way that they specialize in cross country or track and field, but not all three sports like the Razorbacks strive to do.
“We just don’t have a large room for error,” Harter said. “Everybody has to stay healthy and contribute and we were able to put it all together this year. In years past, if we had a mental breakdown or a physical breakdown, we couldn’t cover that, whereas some of these distance factories just throw another person up on the board. On the track side of it, the sprint factories do the same thing.
“It’s a situation where it’s a very fine balancing act and we’ve been able to pull it off, especially in 2019.”
Arkansas' men finished 30th out of 31 teams in the 10,000-meter race.
Freshman Myles Richter was the Razorbacks’ top runner with a 132nd-place finish in a time of 32:14.0. Matt Young, who was 43rd at the 2K marker, finished 147th in 32:19.1.
Iowa State’s Edwin Kurgat won the individual title in the men’s race with a time of 30:32.7, nearly five seconds ahead of Colorado’s Joe Klecker in second place.
BYU won the team title with 109 points. Northern Arizona was second with 163 points and had its streak of consecutive national championships snapped at three.
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