Another Season: If it doesn’t seem that long ago that we were talking about the likes of Christine Kalmer, Denise Bargiachi, Kelly Vrshek and Dacia Barr, you’re right. It was just three months ago that those four along with several other Lady Razorbacks were wrapping up their outdoor track seasons and preparing for the 2006 Cross Country campaign.
Departed Seniors: The 2006 Lady Razorbacks certainly have their work cut out for them this fall. Gone from Arkansas’ 19th-place NCAA Championship squad are three seniors who had been major contributors over their careers. Those that are gone include Jessie Gordon, Laura Jakosky and Penny Splichal.
Welcome Back: While the loss of Arkansas’ 2005 senior class is going to hurt, the Lady Razorbacks bring back a quartet of sophomores this fall who all have NCAA Championships experience along with a trio of juniors and several other role players. Included in the returning athletes are 2005 SEC Freshman of the Year Christine Kalmer, all-SEC second team runner Denise Bargiachi, all-regional athletes Dacia Barr and Kelly Vrshek and wily veterans Caroline Peyton and Tiffany Redlarczyk.
Razorback Hall of Honor: A pair of Lady Razorbacks were inducted into the Razorback Hall of Honor last weekend marking the first time two people with women’s athletics ties have been enshrined in the same season. Former Lady’Back and 15-time all-American Amy Yoder Begley was voted on along with her former coach and current head coach Lance Harter. Both inductees received their plaques at halftime of the USC football game on Sept. 2 after an induction banquet on Friday, Sept. 1.
The Fayetteville Invitational: The opening meet of the 2006 season is the Fayetteville Invitational and this year there are two women’s squads scheduled to complete. Missouri Southern State University makes their annual pilgrimage to Fayetteville along with Missouri State. The three-team competition should make things more interesting for media and fans alike as the runners navigate a 4,000-meter course at Agri Park in Fayetteville on Friday night, Sept. 8, at 7:00 p.m.
Last Season: In what turned out to be a dual meet between Arkansas and Missouri Southern, there was no competition for the Lady Razorbacks as they took the top 10 places in the race. Then freshman Denise Bargiachi was the third-place finisher, but ran unattached, prompting Arkansas’ coaches to pull her redshirt the following week, but Arkansas tallied a perfect score, 15, in the meet to easily outdistance Missouri Southern who earned 50.
Newcomers: We mentioned those that have left as well as those that return, but what has Arkansas’ coaches really excited about the opening weekend is the freshmen class. Erin Gray joins the squad after a solid redshirt year and is joined by Megan Jackson, Danielle Parry, Brooke Upshaw and Miranda Walker in what could be one of the Lady’Backs best new classes in several years.
Kalmer Leads the Way: To know anything about Arkansas cross country, one should know that in 2005 Christine Kalmer was the Lady Razorbacks number one runner and will be asked to do the same in 2006. Running some impressive times throughout her first season, Kalmer torched the Agri Park course over 5,000 meters with a time of 17:10, 17 seconds ahead of second place.
SEC Freshman of the Year: Thanks to her outstanding year and fifth-place overall finish at the SEC Championships, Christine Kalmer was named the 2005 SEC Freshman of the Year. The honor is the second bestowed upon a Lady Razorback following in the footsteps of recently departed senior Penny Splichal in 2001.
Arkansas and the USA: Following a long cross country season and rolling straight into indoor track, Denise Bargiachi and Kelly Vrshek each competed at the US Junior Cross Country Championships and performed admirably. Bargiachi finished ninth overall at the meet and earned a roster spot on Team USA’s NACAC roster, while Vrshek crossed the line in 15th.
The SEC Coaches’ Poll: After several years away from the top spot in the conference, the Southeastern Conference coaches feel that the Lady Razorbacks are poised for greatness again. In the annual preseason coaches’ poll, the Lady Razorbacks were picked to finish first in the conference, barely edging Tennessee, the three-time reigning conference champion. Arkansas picked up seven of the 12 first-place votes cast for a total of 117 points. Tennessee was given the remaining first-place votes and was right behind Arkansas with 114 points. What could be a very good Georgia squad was third with 99 points.
All Racers Ready: The Lady Razorbacks are wasting no time getting their 2006 season started. Each of the 14 runners on the Lady Razorback roster is going to be available to run. A couple of the runners may compete unattached, but otherwise it’s all hands on deck.
Academic all-American: It should be pointed out that senior Maureen Scott not only gets the job done on the cross country course but in the classroom as well. Following six semesters of perfect 4.0 grade point averages, Scott earned her second first-team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America honor and has a chance to be the first three-time honoree in Lady Razorback history.
The National Coaches Poll: The FinishLynx/NCAA National Cross Country Coaches Poll has not been released as of yet, but we do have confirmation that it was supposed to come out after Labor Day so it could be any time.
Last Year: Many times the cross country poll is based off of last season’s NCAA Championship results, a voting strategy that should help the Lady Razorbacks. Arkansas finished 19th in the nation at the 2005 NCAA Championships but did lose three runners from that squad. Expect the Lady Razorbacks to be ranked high when the 2006 poll is released.