FAYETTEVILLE – On a perfectly sunny Friday five Arkansas Razorbacks women cross country seniors ran perfectly.
Placing first through fifth representing Coach Lance Harter’s nationally No. 1 Razorbacks, Taylor Werner, Katie Izzo, Carina Viljoen, Devin Clark and Maddy Reed compiled a perfect score 15 winning Friday’s NCAA South Central Qualifying meet at the University of Arkansas’ Agri Farm 6,000 meter course.
From Fayetteville Friday, Arkansas and South Central runner-up Texas, 63, automatically advance full 7-member teams to the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championships Nov. 23 in Terre Haute, Ind. Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men, led by third-placer Matt Young, punched their Terre Haute ticket for the Nov. 23 NCAA Men’s Championships running second, 67 point, to Texas’ 39, but comfortably ahead of the third-place Texas A&M Aggies, 128 no going to Terre Haute points.
Werner, Izzo, Viljoen and Clark strode across the finish line together, their above scoring order sorted by the finish line camera Werner and Izzo each clocked 20:30.30, Viljoen, 20:30.60 and Clark, 20:30.70. Reed, normally Arkansas’ sixth runner but stepping up with top five junior runner Lauren Gregory resting a sore hip to heal for Terre Haute sprinted past four runners in her final 300 meters for the fifth place in 20:47.80 completing the first Women’s Regional perfect score in the Razorbacks’ history.
“If we had to pass out the game ball today we’d give it to Maddy Reed,” Harter said.
Werner and Izzo, both setting the slow first 4,000 pace that Harter wanted saving energy for Terre Haute, then accelerating the last 2,000 to quash any upset notions, marveled finishing side by side then seeing Reed complete perfection.“We turned around and saw Maddy there and said, ‘Oh, my God!’ Werner said. “To be doing this in front of our home crowd with all our family and friends here is a dream come true.”
Izzo said, “To look back and seeing Maddy sprinting on to get that fifth spot – just to have her up there with all of us was so exciting to see.” While not scoring as Arkansas’ sixth and seventh runners, Razorbacks freshmen Quin Owen and Adoette Vaughn made the 25-member All-Regional honored with Owen 13th and Vaughn overcoming her fall a mile into the race to battle back to 25th. “Nice for all seven to get that knowing we have Lauren (Gregory) and Abby (Gray, the junior held out so the freshmen could run) sitting on the sideline as cheerleaders,” Harter said. “If anything we made a nice statement today to the teams that we are going to see next week that we are fit and ready to go and pretty confident.” Especially with the seniors’ cross country Fayetteville farewell that South African senior Viljoen called “the perfect way to sign off here.”Harter concurred. “That’s a memory that they’ll never forget and neither will I,” Harter said.
Bucknam’s men obviously didn’t run perfectly. But he was perfectly happy with second place advancing to Terre Haute expansively ahead of Texas A&M, a close fourth to Arkansas’ third at the SEC Men’s Cross Country meet, and Southland Conference champion Lamar.
Bucknam could have closely challenged Texas Friday but not without activating Gilbert Boit, the 2018 SEC Cross Country champion that Bucknam redshirts banking on a better team next year that could win the SEC and forge a national presence.
Nevertheless full-team qualifying a ninth straight NCAA Cross Country meet was huge for Arkansas’ men led Young, a junior, finishing third, Ryan Murphy, 13th coming off a stress fractured foot, freshmen Jace Turner and Myles Richter 14th and 15th, senior Carter Persyn, scoring 24th and sixth man senior Preston Cates also all Regional at 25th.
“I’m proud of this team and how we competed,” Bucknam said. “We didn’t have a great SEC meet, and we bounced back and really ran well today. It’s bittersweet, because we want to win and all that, but hey, we’re going with the automatic qualifying mark to Terre Haute and we look forward to better days.”
So does Young. “We’ll have Gilbert back, and some great recruits and transfers coming in,” Young said. “I really think we’ll be able to contend for a national title next year and get that SEC championship.”
Photos curtesy of Craven Whitlow
CW3, Sports Action