Razorbacks take unbeaten mark into SECs

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

The Arkansas men’s cross country team is undefeated this season having swept titles at the Cowboy Preview at Oklahoma State, the Chile Pepper Festival at the Razorbacks’ home Agri-Park course and the Pre-Nationals meet at Virginia.

Today, the Razorbacks are looking to keep their perfect season going at the SEC Championships in Columbia, S.C.

Arkansas is the SEC’s top-ranked team at No. 8 nationally followed by No. 13 Tennessee and No. 22 Alabama.

The Crimson Tide won last year’s SEC title with 59 points. The Razorbacks and Volunteers tied for second with 64 points.

“I consider us an underdog a little bit,” Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. “Alabama is the defending champs.

“We didn’t get it done last year, so our kids want to get after it and see if we can grab our title back.”

The Razorbacks lead the SEC with 27 titles since joining the conference in 1991, and they had won 10 of 12 before the Tide won last year.

“Alabama has the last trophy and we don’t,” Bucknam said. “So even though we’re ranked high and I think we’re pretty good, we still haven’t proven anything yet.

“Alabama has something we don’t have, and I think our guys sense that.”

Arkansas returns six of its top seven runners from last year, led by junior All-American Patrick Kiprop, who was fifth at last year’s SEC meet.

Other returnees for the Razorbacks are junior Elias Schreml (10th), seniors Myles Richter (12th) and Jacob McLeod (16th) and redshirt sophomore Ben Shearer (16th).

Arkansas has been bolstered by the addition of junior transfer Kirami Yego from South Alabama and Lexington Hilton from Arkansas State.

Yego and Shearer took 1-2 at the Chile Pepper and Shearer won at the Pre-Nationals with Yego, Kiprop, and McLeod taking third, fifth and sixth.

Hilton and redshirt freshman Reuben Reina were 26th and 27th at the Pre-Nationals meet.

Shearer earned SEC Runner of the Week for his victory.

“We knew when we recruited Ben he was a talent,” Bucknam said. “It takes a while for everything to click. It’s now happening.

“He’s figured it out and is doing everything right. He can smell the finish line. He really competes hard. It’s fun to watch that maturation happen in front of your eyes.”

Buckram said Yego has been a welcome addition after being an All-American at South Alabama. He was SEC Runner of the Week after his Chile Pepper victory.

“Kirami brings a little bit of new blood, and that’s one thing about the transfers that I like,” Bucknam said. “You get these mature, established athletes that are like freshmen again.

“They’re excited about where they’re at, with new facilities, surroundings, and a new team. Kirami’s always smiling and positive, while challenging everybody at practice. I love his enthusiasm and him wanting to make a mark as a Razorback.”

Bucknam said he believes the Razorbacks are ready to peak at the right time.

“We haven’t put it all together yet, but we ran really good at Pre-Nats,” he said. “I think there’s so much more in the tank with this team. As we enter into our championship season, I think we’re in a good spot.”