BATON ROUGE, La. – Freshman Brooke Upshaw was the runaway individual champion at the 24th annual Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships and led the fourth-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team to a dominating victory in Baton Rouge, La., to claim its 11th SEC title.
The Lady Razorbacks tallied the second-lowest point score in conference history behind its historic 1999 team by scoring 17 points, two points away from the record and a perfect score. Arkansas’ score of 17 points was 46 ahead of second-place Georgia (63) while three-time defending champion Tennessee (74) finished third. Florida (96) and Mississippi State (160) rounded out the top five. Upshaw’s individual victory makes her the first freshman to take the individual crown since Alabama freshman Becki Wells in 1993.
“One of the weapons that we have had all year is that we have interchangeable parts,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Someone asked me before the race who will be your frontrunner and I told them that I had no idea. We are all freshmen and sophomores and our first junior was eighth today. It’s a young crew and we are awfully excited about this.”
Arkansas’ team title is its SEC record 11th conference crown. Since joining the league in the fall of 1991, Arkansas has claimed 11 of the 16 SEC championships. Tennessee is second on the list with five team titles with their first coming in 1983. The Lady Razorback victory also keeps the team undefeated this season with a perfect 77-0-0 team record.
The Lady Razorbacks battled soggy conditions throughout the course, but managed to get established early in the race which eventually led to eight of their 10 runners earning either first or second-team all-conference honors. Upshaw was the front runner, leading a 1-2-3-5-6 scoring finish for the Lady Razorbacks. Non-scorers for Arkansas finished 9-11-14-16-29. Upshaw’s time of 20:14.90 over the 6,000-meter course is a personal best for the distance an even more impressive accomplishment when considering the course conditions and hills that came into play at several points throughout the race.
“She’s really special and we knew that when we recruited her,” Harter said about Upshaw. “What we saw today is just the tip of the iceberg. Brooke is the ultimate competitor. The person that I can compare her to most is former Lady Razorback Deena Drossin. What you see in workouts is one thing, but when it comes to race time that is something else.”
At the start, Arkansas began in the middle of the pack, but quickly fanned out and allowed its team to move into the front pack. By the one-mile mark, the Lady Razorbacks had established a united front with sophomore Christine Kalmer, Upshaw and Tennessee sophomore Sarah Bowman making up the top three and seven other Lady Razorbacks among the top 20.
Midway through the race it became apparent that it would be a two-person battle as Upshaw and Bowman created distance between themselves and the field. Heading into the final major uphill climb, Upshaw held a two-stride lead over the Tennessee phenom, but took a commanding lead by the top of the climb as Bowman struggled with the stretch.
Down the home stretch, Upshaw was well out in front and her teammates had closed the gap on Bowman who would eventually fall to seventh place overall. Sophomore Dacia Barr would pass Kalmer over the final strides to finish second with Kalmer third. Georgia’s Jill Steffens would claim fourth followed by freshman Dani Parry and sophomore Denise Bargiachi who all earned first-team all-SEC honors.
Making up the second-team all-conference were freshman Miranda Walker and junior Beth Fahey. Sophomore Kelly Vrshek just missed the top 14.
For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to LADYBACKS.COM.