Cross Country Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Razorbacks fans Friday can watch their nationally  No. 1 men’s and women’s cross country teams run for this  year’s SEC Cross Country Championships.

Live from Baton Rouge, La. the SEC Network televises Friday’s 9 a.m. SEC Women’s Championship with Coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks, the defending NCAA champions, seeking their eighth straight SEC Cross Country crown.

At 10 a.m. Friday the SEC Network televises Coach Chris Bucknam’s resurgent Razorbacks men, the SEC Cross Country champions from 2010-2017 but edged the last two SEC Cross Country years by Ole Miss, try and regain the conference crown they’ve dominated.

Though not joining SEC Cross Country until 1991, the formerly Southwest Conference Razorbacks already tie SEC charter member Tennessee at 25 with the most SEC Men’s Cross Country championships.

Bucknam noted there “always seems a milestone”  looming in Arkansas cross country and indoor and outdoor track inheriting the tradition embedded in  official 40 national championships and combined 84 SWC and SEC championships compiled by retired Razorbacks Coach John McDonnell’s teams.

Especially this year with the SEC Championships climaxing the fall cross country season with the NCAA Cross Country Championships moved to March 15 accommodating those schools that closed up athletic shop this fall because of covid-19, Bucknam’s men have primed for Friday in Baton Rouge. They have established themselves decisive victors over Ole Miss in Arkansas’ two meets run strictly against SEC teams.

Bucknam said he’s confident in his Hogs, perhaps the deepest cross country team in his 13 years head coaching Arkansas, and they are confident in each other, but he warns them  “not to let their guard down.”

“We have to keep our feet on the accelerator and try to win this thing,” Bucknam said.  “We can’t take it for granted.  They are a nationally ranked team, too.”

Bucknam does appreciate that when asking the 10 Razorbacks entered Friday who could win the SEC individual title, “every one of them raised their hand.  That’s what you like to see.”

Bucknam’s men are so loaded that Gilbert Boit, the 2018 SEC Cross Country champion redshirted last year, was Arkansas’ fifth scorer in its last meet.

“Our one through  five can interchange on any given day,” Bucknam said.

Emmanuel Cheboson, second  in both meets this season, Amon Kemboi, winning the  star-studded Oct. 16 Blazer Classic in Birmingham, Ala.,  transfer Jacob McLeod, All-SEC veteran Matt Young and Boit with others including Andrew Kibet and Ryan Murphy capable of cracking that scoring five.

Despite the bulk of Harter’s 2019 national champions completing their cross country eligibility last fall, though reactivating  All-Americans with Indoor and Outdoor track eligibility this winter and fall, Harter’s Razorbacks with transfers Chrissy Gear, Logan Morris, Julie Paternain and  Kennedy Thomson and freshman phenoms Taylor Ewert and  Corie Smith to Lauren Gregory, Arkansas’ fifth runner and lone returning NCAA scorer, and returnee Abby Gray give this team unanticipated  instant depth.

“Our confidence is pretty high,” Gregory said.  “We know if somebody is not on their A-game we have three people who can make up for it.”

Harter said newcomers quickly fit old traditions that come with seven consecutive SEC Cross Country champions and national championships in the last  NCAA Cross Country and NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Championships run.

“I’m so excited that we have so many new faces that want to keep the winning legacy moving forward,” Harter said. “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.”

While appearing a lock for the team title, the individual SEC  Women’s title won by Arkansas’ Katie Izzo last year, sports strong aspirants throughout the league.

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