Hogs Sweep Cross Country

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE –  Ole Miss in the men’s meet and Alabama in the women’s meet dominated the elite of Friday’s SEC Cross Country Championship but overall Arkansas depth dominated to sweep. Despite Ole Miss’ men sweeping the top three individual places and Alabama women placing first, fifth and sixth, Coach Chris Bucknam’s scoring five Razorbacks men prevailed, 35-59 over the runner-up Rebels after Coach Lance Harter’s five Razorbacks scorers defeated Alabama’s runner-up women, 41-57 in Friday’s SEC Cross  Country Championships in Baton Rouge, La.For Harter’s women, returning only two from last year’s NCAA Championships team, Friday’s team triumph marked an eighth straight SEC Cross Country crown.For Bucknam’s men, the SEC Cross Country champions from 2010-2017, Friday marked regaining the SEC title that Ole Miss  won in both 2018 and 2019.“That was the goal, to get it,” Bucknam said.  “It wasn’t a sexy win not having an individual champion but I’m just glad we were able to compete for a championship and bring one home. We’re excited about that, to get it back and we broke a tie with Tennessee for most SEC Cross Country championships.”Arkansas, joining  SEC Cross Country in 1991 under John McDonnell with Bucknam succeeding McDonnell upon McDonnell’s 2008 retirement, claimed its 26th SEC men’s cross country title surpassing SEC charter member Tennessee’s 25.Harter’s Razorbacks were heavily favored but he hadn’t forgotten how vulnerable his Razorbacks once seemed minus so many from last year’s national championship team.“We are really pleased,” Harter said interviewed post race Friday on the SEC Network airing both meets live.  “Obviously  losing so many seniors there’s always a  huge  question mark  but  these kids just stepped right in.  To have  seven in the top 16 is more than anybody could have dreamed for a  coach.Some talent from other schools  came and mixed us up a little bit.  But you win  when five cross the line before anyone else and we were able to do that successfully.”Alabama champion Mercy Chelengat,  leading from the two mile mark on completing the women’s 6,000 meter course in 19:46;  Kentucky’s Jenna Gearing, 19:50, and Missouri’s Sarah Chapman, 19:58, finished ahead of Arkansas’ first runner, fourth-place Lauren Gregory, 20:06.Alabama’s Esther Gitahi, 20:10 and Jami Reed, 20:11 placed fifth and sixth.However before the Crimson Tide’s fourth runner rolled home, Razorbacks scorers Logan Morris, 20:14; Abby Gray, 20:19 and the meet’s pace-setter for the first mile, Taylor Ewert, 20:21; and Krissy Gear, 20:28, placed seventh, ninth, 10th and 11th.Though not scoring themselves, the 15th, 16th, 18th and 22nd finishes by Razorbacks Meghan Underwood, Corrie Smith, Gracie Hyde and Isabel Van Kamp further inflated Alabama’s score before Alabama’s 24th-place fourth scorer with Arkansas’ Kennedy Thomson then finishing ahead of Alabama’s fifth scorer.Ole Miss, last year’s SEC runner-up and anticipated to be Arkansas’ primary women’s challenger, finished third with 97 points.Breaking away from what had been a 9-man,  Ole Miss Rebels Mario Garcia Romo,  Cole Bullock  and Waleed Suliam impressed with a stunning 1-2-3 finish in 23:32,  and 23:34.3 and 23:34.3 with Mizzou’s Kieran Wood, fourth, 23:37.Ten seconds later, Amon Kemboi led a fifth through ninth Razorbacks winning charge bringing the SEC trophy back to Fayetteville.  Luke Meade, 23:48, Jacob McLeod, 23:51, Emmanuel Cheboson, 24:00; and Matt Young, 24:03 brought home the trophy.For good measure, Razorbacks Andrew Kibet, 14th, Gilbert Boit, 16th; Ryan Murphy, 22nd, and Myles Richter, 23rd, finished ahead of Ole Miss’ fourth scorer.Normally, Harter and Bucknam would now prep for the NCAA District Qualifying meet and then the NCAA Championships but because of the covid-19 pandemic the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla have moved to March after Arkansas hosts the NCAA Indoor Track and Field /Championships.

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