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.
Razorbacks face track, cross country dilemma
Arkansas Amon Kemboi runs during the SEC Cross Country Championships on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.
FAYETTEVILLE — Normally off winning last week’s SEC Cross Country Championships, Arkansas Men’s Coach Chris Bucknam and Arkansas Women’s Coach Lance Harter would train their Razorbacks for this month’s NCAA regional qualifying meet and finally the NCAA National Championships the week before Thanksgiving.
Nothing seems to come normally in 2020.
So the cross country runners now face an extra month with no competition before joining their track and field teammates for the indoor season starting its meets in January. Yet from March 12-15 they face a long weekend of Friday and Saturday at the NCAA Indoor Championships that Arkansas hosts in Fayetteville, then drive Sunday to Stillwater, Okla., for Monday’s NCAA Cross Country Championships.
So many conferences and individuals didn’t run cross country this fall because of covid-19 concerns that the NCAA Cross Country Championships were marched to March.
At the first whiff of cross country nationals conflicting with indoor track, Bucknam and Harter adamantly vowed indoor track comes first. They still do, but with more thought to Stillwater, too.
Thoughts tend to change when your teams not only are SEC champions but rank No. 1 as Harter’s women do in both cross country polls. Bucknam’s men rank No. 1 and No. 3
“As of now we’re going to field a cross country team,” Bucknam said. “We’re going to make sure we focus on the indoor season and see where we stand after the NCAA meet and try to give it a good run.”
“Ultimately the No. 1 priority is our indoor season,” Harter said. “But if we have people that are willing and able to run cross country we’ll take them and give them the experience.”
Coaching the defending 2019 NCAA Cross team champion, expect Harter to have a team running in Stillwater for more than experience, even while devoted to defending his Razorbacks’ 2019 NCAA Indoor team title unchallenged in 2020. Covid concerns canceled last March’s NCAA Indoor.
Bucknam’s resurgent Razorbacks, reclaiming 2019 SEC Indoor and 2020 SEC Cross Country titles they last won in 2017, also have the depth to make runs at both championships.
Luke Meade, Arkansas’ second SEC Cross Country finisher, and Gilbert Boit, the 2018 SEC Cross Country champion, completed their indoor eligibility giving Bucknam at least two runners fresh for Stillwater.
Conversely with 2019 Cross Country All-Americans Taylor Werner and Katie Izzo completing their cross country careers in 2019 and committed completely to 2021 indoor track, Harter maybe can spare a different NCAA Indoor distance qualifier to be fresh for Stillwater.
“We are one of the few teams with enough firepower that we can split and still be competitive at both sides,” Harter said.
That’s both admirable and difficult. Some strong teams will skip the indoor national and load entirely for cross country.
“We are in a tough situation because of how good we are in track,” Bucknam said. “But I’m not going to scuttle the indoor season for cross country. Then we’ll run cross country as best we can.”
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