Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times.
Shorthanded Razorbacks keep streak intact
Arkansas coach Lance Harter is shown during the NCAA South Regional cross country meet on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Of the 42 SEC championships Lance Harter has won as the University of Arkansas women’s cross country and track and field coach, the latest might also be the sweetest.
“It has to be one of the top three sweetest,” Harter said Friday after the Razorbacks won their 22nd SEC cross country title. “And I’d be hard-pressed to think of two that are ahead of it.”
What made Friday’s championship so sweet for Harter, who has been at Arkansas since 1990, and the Razorbacks is that for a change they weren’t favored to win it.
Arkansas came into the meet in Columbia, Mo., ranked No. 15 nationally in the coaches poll, while Alabama was ranked No. 5 and Ole Miss No. 11.
But the Razorbacks’ depth proved to be the difference as they won their ninth consecutive SEC cross country championship with 68 points with the Rebels second (83) and Crimson Tide third (91).
“Going into the meet we were the distinct underdog, and our kids needed to have a race above and beyond what they would have to do normally, and they rose to the occasion and were able to pull it out,” Harter said. “That makes this one really, really special.”
Senior Krissy Gear was Arkansas’ top finisher in third. She ran the 6,000-meter Gans Creek course in 20:08.1 behind Alabama junior Mercy Chelangat — last year’s NCAA champion who won her second consecutive SEC title in 19:55.2 — and Auburn’s Joyce Kimeli, who was second in 20:04.1.
The Razorbacks’ other four scorers were sophomore Isabel Van Camp (10th), junior Lauren Gregory (12th), sophomore Meghan Underwood (18th) and senior Logan Jolly (25th).
“I knew that this was going to be the first time where everybody got to toe the line at the same time,” Harter said of having the Razorbacks’ top 12 runners go in the same race. “That was a big positive for us, because it just shows strengths in numbers that we’re all here and we’re all ready to go.
“It was a really true team effort, because we had some people who had tremendous breakthrough races, and we had others who had off days.”
Gear, known more for being a miler, improved eight spots after finishing 11th at last year’s SEC cross country meet.
“We had a team meeting [Thursday night] and afterwards Krissy asked me, ‘What do you expect of me?’ ” Harter said. “I said, ‘Well, I’d really like to have you in the top 3 to 5.
“She goes, ‘OK, I’ll be there.’ Sure enough, she took care of it. She’s incredibly gifted, and she still refers to herself as a miler, but she’s really starting to figure out this business as a distance runner.”
Jolly, a transfer from Clemson, ran just one race previously this fall — taking 23rd at the Chile Pepper — and had been behind in her training after breaking a foot competing in the steeplechase late in last year’s outdoor track season.
“Logan has been playing catch-up this whole fall, but she’s been coming on strong in workouts,” Harter said. “I think here confidence has grown a lot. Now she’s starting to really believe, ‘Hey, I’m closing in on these guys.’
“If she’s healthy and ready to go, she is a big asset for our program as she showed [Friday].”
It was 48 degrees at the start of the race with a windchill factor that made it feel like 38. The runners also had to contend with heavy winds and a course soaked by rain.
“It was a bit of a shock, I think, to everybody,” Harter said of the harsh conditions.
But the weather — like the other teams — couldn’t stop the Razorbacks from winning their 22nd SEC cross country championship since joining the conference for the 1991 season.
Florida won the 2012 SEC cross country title before Arkansas began its latest streak.
Along with the current nine-year streak, the Razorbacks have the three longest streaks of winning the conference meet along with two five-year streaks from 1991-95 and 1998-2002.
“I think our tradition definitely helped,” Harter said of Friday’s victory. “Nobody wants to be responsible for breaking the streak.”
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