STARKVILLE, Miss. – Led by an individual race win from sophomore Catherine White, No. 13 Arkansas Razorback women’s cross country won its 13th overall and third-straight Southeastern Conference Cross Country title Monday morning at Mississippi State’s Horse Park.
“It’s always great to watch a close race and this one was,” head coach Lance Harter said. “Florida has a great team this year but we answered the call today. It was by no means a perfect race for us today, except maybe for Catherine (White). She was absolutely brilliant. After that it was a close match-up athlete to athlete between us and Florida.”
A much closer battle than expected, the Razorbacks topped the Florida Gators, 46 to 53. Arkansas finished three runners in the top ten and all five scorers in the top 20. The Gators finished four in the top 10 and their five scorers in the top 26. The Tennessee Lady Vols rounded out the top three with 107 points.
“Samantha Learch made a nice breakthrough today as our seventh runner,” Harter said. “Dacia Perkins was our fifth runner today after cramping up badly with about 2K to go. Thankfully she hung on and finished where she did.”
White was the individual race winner with a personal-best 6,000-meter time of 20:07.26. She also earned the first All-SEC honor of her young career. For most of the race White battled with Hollie Knight of Auburn and Sarah Bowman of Tennessee, each exchanging leads throughout the course. Right after passing the 5K mark, White broke away from the pack and never looked back.
“This feels great,” White said. “I’m so thankful I could come out here today and run my best. I sensed a break starting to happen (in the top three) and that’s when I made my move. I started rolling with about 4K to go, didn’t look back and I took advantage of it. Winning this team title is so exciting for all of us. We train so hard every day together. We all work so well together and this was a great team effort.”
Since joining the Southeastern Conference just in time for the 1991 SEC Cross Country Championships, the Razorbacks have won 13 of the 18 possible titles, including five-year stretches from 1991-95 and 1998-2002. The Razorbacks currently have a three-year streak going (2006-08).
The Razorbacks have captured 11 of the possible 18 individual titles, including a six-year stretch from 1997-2002, with the most recent coming in 2006 from Brooke Upshaw. Deena (Drossin) Kastor was the first SEC Champion for Arkansas when she won her first of two league cross country titles in 1991.
“Catherine was running (at the front) with multi-time All-Americans,” Harter said. “Those athletes are definitely at the forefront of collegiate running, in the SEC and nationally. We are so pleased we have a great front runner who can go out and lead for us. Now we need the rest of the pack to follow behind her. Catherine has absolutely skyrocketed and today was her coming out party.”
Denise Bargiachi was Arkansas’ second runner in fourth place overall. After the top three broke away, Bargiachi led the second pack for the rest of the race. She clocked a 6K time of 20:38.36 to earn her fourth All-SEC honor. She is one of just eight Razorback women to earn All-SEC honors four times in their cross country career.
Christine Kalmer was the third Razorback to cross the finish line. She finished eighth overall with a 6K time of 20:54.74. She earned the fourth All-SEC. Similar to Bargiachi, she is also in the elite group of four-time All-SEC honorees.
Jillian Rosen and Dacia Perkins crossed the line 16th and 17th, respectively. Clocking times of 21:09.15 and 21:19.34, they were Arkansas’ fourth and fifth scorers.
Megan Jackson finished 25th overall and sixth on the Razorback team. She clocked a 6K time of 21:40.23.
Samantha Learch, making her SEC Championships debut, was the fourth freshman overall to cross the finish line and was Arkansas’ seventh runner. She was named to the SEC All-Freshman team with her 6K time of 21:46.69 and 28th-place finish overall.
Also competing for Arkansas were Ashley Williams (47th; 22:33.60), Ashley Mason (70th; 23:19.73) and Cali George (81st; 23:48.72).
The highlights from the SEC Cross Country Championships will air on SEC-TV Thurs., Nov. 6 at5:30 p.m. (CST). For complete details from the 2008 SEC Cross Country Championships, visit www.secsports.com. For more information on Arkansas Athletics, visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.