Arkansas Wins 31st-Consecutive League Title; B
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Razorbacks continued to add to the longest tenured championship streaks in collegiate athletics’ history Saturday morning as the Arkansas cross country team took the trophy at the 2004 Southeastern Conference Championships.
The Hogs earned their 14th-straight SEC crown since entering the league in 1991 and their 31st-consecutive conference crown. Arkansas captured the final 17 cross country titles in the Southwest Conference before switching leagues. UA has not lost a conference cross country meet since 1973, when it came in second behind Texas.
UA tallied 23 points when its five scoring runners finished in the top nine of the 8,000-meter race on the Razorback Cross Country Course at Agri Park. Florida came in second with 72 points, while Georgia was third (96). The Hogs’ 49-point margin of victory was the largest since 1996, when Arkansas beat Alabama by 49 in Oxford, Miss.
“We ran faster than I thought we would,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “I’d expected we would get those kinds of places and I knew they could do that up front. Our top six ran extremely well and our top three were up there with Simon Ngata from Georgia, who is a very, very good runner.”
Junior transfer Josphat Boit remained undefeated for the season when he became the first Razorback since Michael Power in 1999 to claim the individual championship. Boit ran in front from the moment the gun went off, but had a challenge from Georgia standout, Simon Ngata. Boit took control of the race when he broke away from Ngata at the 4,000-meter mark and never had to look back as he crossed the line in first place with a season-best time of 23:09.
“I felt good and I felt really relaxed when I was leading,” Boit said. “I was worried about Simon (Ngata) kicking at the end so I wanted to get a good lead at 4,000 meters and that’s what Coach McDonnell and I talked about. I did what I had to do, because I wanted to be an SEC champion.”
In his first time to race in an Arkansas jersey freshman Shawn Forrest made a very impressive debut and garnered runner-up honors. After running in third place for a majority of the race Forrest caught Ngata in the last mile to move up to second. Forrest posted an excellent time of 23:20, while Ngata came in five seconds later.
“Josphat (Boit) did most of the work up front and when you have good people breathing down your neck you have to have a lot of confidence and ability and not be afraid to apply pressure when it counts,” McDonnell said. “He made his move and he made it count. Shawn (Forrest) was fantastic and he fought his way back. He’s pretty tough too.”
“I went out there and had fun, but I had to stay focused,” Forrest said. “I knew there wasn’t much left when we got to the last mile, so I put it all out there in the end. I couldn’t have asked for a better debut and Arkansas won too, so we did a pretty good job. I’ve never had this much (fan) support before. It’s wonderful.”
Junior transfer Marc Rodrigues grabbed his first-career All-SEC honor when he finished in fourth place with a season-best time of 23:33. Three-time All-American senior Jason Sandfort was competing in his fourth SEC Championship and he recorded a career-best time of 23:44 for seventh place.
Junior Matt Gunn served as UA’s final scorer when he came in ninth place with a career-best time of 23:57 for an All-SEC award. Junior Said Ahmed picked up a career-first All-SEC cross country accolade after he recorded a career-best time of 24:04 for 12th place. Junior Luis Bordes rounded out the league honors when he finished in 14th place with a personal-best performance of 24:08.
Freshman Jonathan Norris grabbed the 20th spot with a career-best time of 24:24 and junior transfer Jose Campos was 30th (24:43). Senior Eric Gross registered a time of 24:54 for 41st.
With UA’s first place finish Coach McDonnell and his Razorbacks extended one of the most impressive streaks in collegiate athletics. This year’s crown brings their total of conference championships to an astounding 74 titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field since McDonnell arrived in Fayetteville.
“It’s nice to win one in front of a home crowd and keep the winning streak going at No. 31 now,” McDonnell said. “It never gets old and the fan support was great.”
The Hogs will now have a week off to prepare for the NCAA South Central Regional Championships in Waco, Texas on Nov. 13. Arkansas must finish in the top two in order to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships. The national meet is being held in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 22.
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