UA women ready for first SEC meet without Harter

Arkansas coach Lance Harter (left) holds up the SEC championship trophy as he celebrates with his runners following the SEC Cross Country Championships on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, in Baton Rouge, La.

Today will mark the first time Lance Harter hasn’t led the Arkansas women’s cross country team at the SEC Championships.

Harter retired in June after 33 years as the Razorbacks’ women’s cross country and track and field coach.

Chris Johnson was promoted from assistant coach to replace Harter, but Johnson’s speciality is coaching sprinters and hurdlers.

While Johnson is overseeing the cross country and track and field programs, Megan Elliott has been promoted from director of operations to coach of the distance runners.

The move makes sense considering Elliott was an all-American distance runner for the Razorbacks and has been a staff member since 2014.

Arkansas won an SEC-leading 22 cross country titles under Harter.

“I think the mission’s still the same,” Elliott said of taking over for Harter and leading the Razorbacks at today’s SEC meet at Columbia, S.C. “Obviously the goal is to try and bring home a title. I think the team’s dialed in.

“It’s going to be a tall task with Florida and Alabama and some others. But the mission is still the same even though the coach is different.”

Florida is the SEC’s highest-ranked team at No. 7 nationally, followed by No. 11 Arkansas, No. 13 Alabama, No. 18 Ole Miss and No. 23 Tennessee.

Alabama won last year’s SEC title with 36 points to stop Arkansas’ streak of nine consecutive championships. The Razorbacks were second with 74 points.

Arkansas has been led this season by freshman Paityn Noe, who took first at the Chile Pepper Racing Festival as the Razorbacks won the team title on their home Agri-Park course. Noe was second at the Pre-Nationals meet at Virginia, where the Razorbacks took second to BYU.

“Paityn had a really strong finish to her outdoor [high school] season through the summer, so that’s kind of spring boarded her into where she’s at now,” Elliott said. “Paityn is taking care of business. Everything is new and she’s really excited.

“She’s young, so we need her to be diligent and stay composed when we see higher level competitors starting with the SEC meet.”

Arkansas returns three of its top finishers from last year’s SEC meet with sophomores Sydney Thorvaldson (11th), Mia Cochran (12th) and Mary Ellen Eudaly (27th).

Elliott said with a young roster, the Razorbacks have gradually improved this season.

“Our kids have been working really hard since August and it’s been a progression through September and October,” Elliott said. “Now is that championship time of the season, so they’re excited. We just have to contain those nerves and focus on the execution.

“That will be crucial since at an SEC meet the field isn’t as dense as a Pre-Nationals or bigger invitational meets. So we’re going to have to key on certain individuals and where they are in the race.”