Arkansas cross country teams return home for NCAA regionals

Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam watches Saturday, April 22, 2017, during the John McDonnell Invitational at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — After the University of Arkansas men’s and women’s cross country teams traveled more than 4,000 miles to and from Charlottesville, Va., and Columbia, S.C., for their last two meets, the Razorbacks get to race at home today.

Arkansas will host the NCAA South Central Regional with the women’s 6,000 meters race starting at 10:30 a.m. and the men’s 8,000 meters race starting at 11:30 a.m. at the Agri-Park Course.

“I’m glad we’re at home on our home course and our guys are around familiar surroundings,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “We don’t have to go through airports and those types of things.

“I think that’s a big advantage for us, being able to stay home. Especially since the NCAA Championships are just seven days after we race [today].”

The top two teams in each race automatically advance to the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Charlottesville on Nov. 18.

“It’s nice to have a little bit of a home field advantage,” said sophomore Sydney Thorvaldson, one of the top runners for Arkansas’ No. 11-ranked team that finished second to Florida at the SEC Championships two weeks ago. “Just being able to run where we train is cool for us and we all know the course pretty well.

“Hopefully, we’ll have a nice support squad out there as well.”

Arkansas’ No. 7 men are 4-0 in meets this season, including the SEC title.

“I’ve enjoyed watching this group develop into a really national caliber and contending program,” Bucknam said. “We were ranked 22nd when the season started and now we’re ranked seventh.

“I think that’s a tribute to the guys’ talent and hard work they’ve put in as well as the dedication they have.

“I’m just really proud of their effort. Now we have to live up to what the poll says, and we always try to be a little bit better than what people think we are.”

Arkansas’ women’s team has won 11 consecutive South Central Regional titles, 16 of the last 21 races and 26 since 1982.

“We want to give a good, strong effort,” said Arkansas assistant Megan Elliott, who coaches the women’s distance runners. “But we want to be our best again eight days after this meet.

“So the goal is to get through as easy as we can, but it’s never easy. You have to go out there and get the job done.”

Arkansas junior Patrick Kiprop won last year’s individual title at the South Central Regional, when the Razorbacks won the team championship for the 17th time in the last 22 races. They have won 39 South Central Regional titles since 1976.

“It’s not necessarily a race to win, it’s a race to qualify and get to the national meet,” Kiprop said. “We will take it like an easy race, but we don’t have to let other people beat us. We’ll conserve our energy for the NCAA Championships.”