Arkansas Seeks National Crown at NCAA Cross Co
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – When the Razorbacks travel to Terre Haute, Ind., for the 2004 NCAA Cross Country Championships on Nov. 22, they will look to capture their 12th national cross country title as they enter the meet as a top contender and the second-ranked team in the nation. If Arkansas is successful in its pursuit for top honors it would also mark the program’s 40th NCAA Championship and the last time the Hogs won a national cross country title was in 2000.
“So far we’re healthy and that’s what you always hope for when you get to the national championships, no matter what your team is capable of doing,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We’re ranked No. 2 and Wisconsin is a ranked No.1 and they’re a very, very tough team, but I think when you’re in the top four or five anything can happen. The last time we won it in 2000 we were ranked No. 5, so the rankings don’t have that much to do with it.”
Nine Razorbacks, including senior All-American Jason Sandfort, junior transfers Josphat Boit and Marc Rodrigues, juniors Said Ahmed, Matt Gunn and Luis Bordes, sophomore Adam Perkins and freshmen Shawn Forrest and Jonathan Norris, will make the trip, but only seven will line up at 12:15 p.m. EST for the 10K race on the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. Bordes and Norris will serve as alternates. Arkansas will encounter tough competition from No. 1-ranked Wisconsin, defending NCAA champion and third-ranked Stanford and No. 4 Colorado.
“We have some depth, but we don’t have the depth that Wisconsin has,” McDonnell said. “They can go back to their sixth or seventh guy and that’s where we drop off a little bit. We’ll be looking to the four people that have done well all year and that’s Josphat Boit, Shawn Forrest, Marc Rodrigues and Jason Sandfort. They’re very solid guys. It will be tough to beat Wisconsin. They’ll have a bunch of people in the top 20.”
Arkansas will look to Boit to help lead the team. The Eldoret, Kenya native is undefeated this season, finishing first in five meets, including the Southeastern Conference Championships. Boit is also a heavy favorite to win the individual title as he carries a 10K time of 29:22. The last Razorback athlete to capture gold was Godfrey Siamusiye when he claimed back-to-back titles in 1995-96.
“He’s (Boit) definitely one of the favorites, but he hasn’t been tested yet,” McDonnell said. “He’s won every race and he always says he feels good, so hopefully he can do it one more time. That will make a big difference, because if he can get No. 1 it’s almost like scoring four people. It’s only one point.”
Sandfort has the most experience of any of his teammates and has earned three All-America honors in cross country. If he gains a fourth on Monday he will become only the second Razorback athlete since Joe Falcon (1984-87) to earn four in a career. Every year Sandfort has improved his finish and he hopes to do the same this year after coming in 24th in 2003, 31st in 2002 and 32nd in 2001.
Forrest has proven to be a strong runner for the Hogs, even though he has only competed in two races. The Melbourne, Australia native’s impact has been immediate, as he has finished second to Boit at the conference and regional championships. His best 10K time is 29:46.
Rodrigues has also served as UA’s second man in two meets and has a top 10K time of 30:02. He also carries competitive experience and was the 2003 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Cross Country Champion.
Last year Ahmed served as an alternate, but this year he is ready to be a part of the scoring five. A 3:37 1,500-meter runner, he registered a career-best 10K time of 30:17 at the Chile Pepper Invitational.
At the 2003 national championships Gunn crossed the line in 95th, but is a much-improved runner this year and enters the race with a 10K time of 30:07. Perkins has come on strong lately and was UA’s fourth man at the NCAA Regionals, where he recorded a 10K time of 30:30.
McDonnell will look to his Razorbacks to keep performing well and put together a strong team showing with five runners in the top 30. Those finishes will be key if they want to bring home the championship trophy on Monday.
“Our fifth guy cannot be further back than the top 30 if we have any chance of beating Wisconsin,” McDonnell said. “That may not beat them (Wisconsin), but we’re capable of doing that. If we still get beat doing that, then my hat’s off to the team that beats us. All I’ve wanted from a team is for them to give 100 percent on that day.”
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