FAYETTEVILLE – In their final race before the SEC Cross Country Championships Oct. 30 in Baton Rouge, La., Coach Lance Harter’s nationally No. 1 and reigning NCAA and SEC champion Arkansas Razorbacks women and Coach Chris Bucknam’s nationally No. 4 Razorbacks men run at Friday morning’s Blazer Invitational at Meadowbrook, Ala. hosted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
Friday’s field comprised mainly of SEC, ACC and Conference USA schools, in the women’s race includes No. 5 Ole Miss, last year’s SEC runner-up, No. 11 Kentucky and No. 14 of the ACC and No. 4 Florida State and No. 15 Georgia Tech of the ACC.
Bucknam’s fourth-ranked Razorbacks rate the highest in the men’s race challenged by No. 5 Ole Miss, the reigning SEC Men’s champion, 12th-ranked Kentucky and 13th-ranked Tennessee with ACC members Florida State and Georgia Tech receiving votes in the men’s national poll.
Both Razorbacks teams decisively beat Ole Miss in the season opening meet LSU hosted in Baton Rouge.
Harter, whose Razorbacks swept the first five places at the women’s race in Baton Rouge, said Friday’s race is “another chance to temper” notions of an Ole Miss challenge at the Oct. 30 SEC meet culminating the covid-19 restrictions abbreviated fall season.
Bucknam, his 2010-2017 string of SEC Cross Country champion Hogs narrowly interrupted by Ole Miss at the 2018 meet with Ole Miss narrowly repeating in 2019 SEC Cross naturally reins in projecting what Friday’s impact might hold.
“You got to beat them first,” Bucknam said of any psychological advantage two successive victories over Ole Miss might hold. “They are still the team to beat. It should be an interesting Friday. This gives us a final wrapup opportunity to get our team full team out there and hopefully see some good competition and get tuned up for what should be a good conference meet.”
Bucknam, with his Hogs winning their last SEC championship competition at the 2020 SEC Outdoor Track meet, on Friday runs his strongest contingent of the season with All-SEC runner Ryan Murphy and touted transfer Amon Kemboi in their 2020 cross country debuts joining top Hogs Emmanuel Cheboson, Jacob McLeod, Matt Young, Luke Meade and Gilbert Boit, the 2018 SEC Cross Country champion and 2019 SEC Indoor and Outdoor track champion redshirted during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Harter’s Razorbacks stun zoomed to No. 1 considering Lauren Gregory and Abby Gray are the only returning scorers from last year’s NCAA champion Razorbacks with 2019 cross country mainstays Taylor Werner, Katie Izzo, Devin Clark, Carina Viljoen and Maddy Reed completed their cross country eligibility but returning with track eligibility for Harter’s teams that won the 2020 SEC Indoor and won the 2019 NCAA Indoor and Outdoor and 2019 SEC Outdoor, the last national and SEC championships run before covid-19 restrictions shut down college sports last mid-March.
Freshmen Taylor Ewert and Corie Smith and transfers , Logan Morris Julia Paterain, Krissy Gear, Kennedy Thomson have joined Gregory and Gray keeping Harter’s women No. 1 and prohibitively favored to win their eighth consecutive SEC Cross Country title.
“I think the whole attitude and culture of this crew is ‘We don’t want to the the ones to stop this defending 7-time SEC champions,” Harter said. “They just won’t let each other down.”