Coming off the heels of a fifth-place finish at the 2006 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Arkansas head coach John McDonnell’s young squad is looking to reclaim its place at the top of the collegiate cross country world. Before focusing on the NCAA Championships performance, McDonnell and his harriers will have their sights set on the 2007 SEC Championship title.
A win in Lexington (the host city for the event) will give the Razorbacks their 34th-consecutive conference cross country title. The road paved ahead of them, with a young squad and competitive schedule, is somewhat bumpy.
The squad lost All-American Peter Kosgei, who finished eighth at the 2006 NCAA Championships, All-American and 2006 SEC runner-up Seth Summerside and Adam Perkins, a four-year lettermen and a five-time All-American on the track.
Bright beginnings are on the horizon with the return of two All-Americans from the 2005 and 2006 seasons. Junior Scott MacPherson finished 48th at the 2006 NCAA Championships and was an NCAA indoor qualifier in 2007 in the 5,000 meters.
Junior Kenny Cormier finished 28th at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships and redshirted the 2007 indoor and outdoor track and field seasons while recovering from mono.
Seniors Shawn Forrest, Matt Munoz and Tyler Hill also add depth and energy with their three seasons of experience. Forrest has had plenty of time to rest for the 2007 cross country season while redshirting the 2007 indoor and outdoor track and field seasons because of a stress fracture in his foot.
“Shawn Forrest, Matt Munoz, Scott MacPherson, Kenny Cormier, they will be the leaders of this team,” McDonnell said. “They are all capable of leading our young team and doing some really good things.”
Forrest, Hill, Cormier and MacPherson will have tremendous help in getting the job done. Junior Chris Barnicle, sophomores Colin Costello, Daniel LaCava and Rio Reina will also have roles to play.
“Matt Munoz, Tyler Hill, Chris Barnicle, they are also in the mix,” McDonnell added. “They have done some great things in the past and I expect more good things out of them this season. Daniel LaCava will also be a force during cross country. He was running well during the 2007 indoor season until he got sick.”
McDonnell will welcome four true freshmen to the team including All-USA Today honoree Michael Chinchar. A deep blend of experienced youth and talented veterans have already formed a tight bond and are ready for competition to start up.
“This is a close team,” McDonnell explained. “I think this is the best cross country team we have had in quite a few years. We have some great freshmen coming in, Duncan Phillips, Michael Chinchar, Lane Boyer and Alex Neff. They have lots of great experience running in some difficult meets and races. Duncan was coached by a former Razorback in high school so he is used to our type of training.”
With the top 14 individual finishers earning All-SEC honors, the Hogs are welcoming back all-conference caliber performers in Forrest, MacPherson and Cormier.
With a schedule that consists of some of the toughest match-ups available, the Razorbacks’ gears will really start humming as the SEC and, especially, NCAA Championships approach.
The Hog harriers will open the season hosting the four-mile run at the Arkansas Duels Sept. 7. Next up will be a trip north for the Missouri Southern Stampede Sept. 15. Also a tough competition will be the 8K Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree.
Watch out for the Razorbacks when they defend their home course at the Chile Pepper Festival and their first test at the NCAA distance of 10,000 meters. Arkansas will also host the NCAA South Central Regional Championships on its home course at Agri Park.
“Chile Pepper will be our big test to see where we are at with our training and how good we are,” McDonnell said. “It’s a good test for the NCAA Championships as well because it is a 10K run, the same as NCAAs.”
With training schedules perfectly mapped out, McDonnell and his squad are ready for whatever could be thrown at them.
“We always train to peak at the conference meet and our goal is to win that meet,” McDonnell explained. “We also want to finish in the top three at Nationals. I’ll be very happy if this young team can win the conference meet and finish top three at Nationals.”
The Razorbacks will open the season with the Arkansas Duels at Agri Park, Fri., Sept. 7 at 7 p.m.