Paul Boyd is a sports reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was voted Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2018.
Razorbacks finally back home for Chile Pepper
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam talks to runners prior to the start of the Chile Pepper Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas will host its first cross county team meet in two years when the Chile Pepper Racing Festival returns this weekend.
Last year’s Chile Pepper was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 33rd Chile Pepper will begin today with four college races at Arkansas’ Agri Park Course, followed by open and high school races on Saturday.
Arkansas is hosting a meet for the first time since Nov. 15, 2019, when the UA women won the NCAA South Central Regional title and the men were second with both teams advancing to the national championships.
The Razorbacks’ No. 10-ranked women’s team will run in a 5,000 meters race at 5 p.m. and the No. 8-ranked UA men will run in an 8,000 meters race at 5:30 p.m.
Spectators are allowed for the college races, but not for Saturday’s races.
“It’s nice to be able to compete on our home course for sure,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “I just love the Chile Pepper. I love the vibe and the atmosphere.
“Our course is fast and it’s easy on the legs.”
There are more than 70 teams entered for the men’s and women’s races, and there will be four total, with the Razorbacks running with the faster competition.
“The whole tactical plan was to make sure we get challenged,” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said. “Hopefully, that will come true, where some of our developmental runners see what this level of competition is all about and then some of our lead runners get a chance to be up front and dictate some tactics.”
The UA men and women will both sit out several of their top runners who competed last week when the men won a 20-team meet in Boston and the women were third in a 17-team meet in Eugene, Ore.
Arkansas’ women’s entrants today include Krissy Gear, Logan Morris, Gracie Hyde, Julia Paternain and Carmie Prinsloo.
Runners for the Arkansas men include Luke George, Myles Richter, Tommy Romanow, Josh Shearer, and Jayce Turner. Competing unattached — meaning they’re still eligible to redshirt — are freshmen Sam Hall, Reuben Reina, Elias Schreml, Ben Shearer and Jack Williams.
Runners aren’t allowed to compete unattached in away meets.
“This is a meet where we can run the freshmen to see where they are and see if they can make an impact in our top seven,” Bucknam said. “If I feel like they can, we’ll take the redshirt off them.”
Top competition from among visiting teams in the women’s race today will be No. 14 Oklahoma State, and Division II ranked teams including No. 2 Colorado School of Mines and No. 4 Augustana (S.D.). Iowa Western, the No. 2 junior college team, also is in the field.
Visiting teams for the men include No. 12 Tulsa, and Division II No. 1 Colorado School of Mines and No. 4 Augustana.
Bucknam said he likes the variety of divisions that will compete.
“That’s what makes this meet special,” Bucknam said. “You have some great Division II teams and some great junior college teams.”
Harter said the large field for each race will simulate the start of nationals.
“We’ll have a mass of bodies on the front line,” Harter said. “Will they all be there at 400 or 800 or 1,000 meters? Probably not. But hopefully our people will be there.”
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