FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – SEC Champions over the last five seasons, the University of Arkansas men’s cross country team will pursue their sixth consecutive conference title this year. The Razorbacks open up their 2015 campaign in Stillwater, Okla. on Sept. 1 at the Oklahoma State Duals.
“I am very much looking forward to coaching this group of athletes this fall,” said head coach Chris Bucknam. “We not only return four out of our top five from last year’s SEC Championship team, but we’ve added some very talented athletes into the mix. How they all develop together as a team over the next three months will be key. Team chemistry, so critical to success of any cross country team is already taking shape before our first official practice.”
Arkansas will make a familiar stop at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx for their second meet of the season, the Iona Meet of Champions. Led by 2014 SEC Co-Freshman of the Year Alex George the Razorbacks saw success at last year’s event scoring 21 points less than the next best competitor to finish first in the team standings.
After two meets on the road the Razorbacks will return to action on their home course at the Chile Pepper Invitational at Agri Park on Oct. 3, 2015. The short stint at home will be followed by their final regular season challenge at Pre Nationals in Louisville, Ky.
“Our goals this year are two fold; our first line of defense is always the SEC Championships,” said Bucknam. “Defending that title is paramount. Two, a return to a top 10 finish nationally. We were left with a sour taste in our mouths after last year’s finish (28th), and that’s been a big motivating factor with this team this summer. I think the course in Louisville suits this team better but only ‘time and effort’ will tell.”
Returning upperclassmen Gabe Gonzales, Aidan Swain and Cale Wallace all of whom have multiple years of experience at the conference and national meets will play major roles in the preparation of new Razorbacks for the high-intensity level of post-season competition.
“Gonzales, Swain, and Wallace have done a wonderful job leadership wise this summer keeping their teammates on task during a rigorous training period,” said Bucknam. “They’ve understood as early as last spring that we will have a target on our back and they have responded by embracing their leadership roles and guiding their teammates throughout the summer.”
Young returners Austen Dalquist, Noah Findlay, George and Ethan Moehn will also have a part in the Razorbacks pursuit to post-season success. The underclassmen will be joined by Nike Festival of Miles qualifier Graham Brown who boasts a PR of 9:11 at 3200 meters, Australian junior champion at 800 and 1500 meters Cameron Griffith, two-time NJCAA cross country first team All-American Frankline Tonui, and Missouri cross country state champion Stephen Mugeche.
“The addition of Tonui (second and fourth at junior college championships in 2013 and 2014) has already proven to be competitive at our level,” said Bucknam. “A January 2015 addition, he had a huge PR in the steeple this spring along with a 10K PR. He is an outstanding cross country runner.”
“George is coming off a very productive summer running for his home country of Great Britain (a 3:44 PR in 1500m and a European Junior title in the 5,000m),” said Bucknam. “In addition Dalquist had a PR in the mile in early June (4:00.64) coming off a redshirt outdoor season. George, Gonzales and Moehn also sat out the outdoor season.”
“Wallace had a solid cross country season but struggled at nationals and during the track season,” said Bucknam. “He has showed us on many occasions he can be a cross country All-American (top-100 at cross country nationals his freshman year, top-eight at 2014 SECs, 1:48.35 PR in the 800m, and he lead off our DMR in 2014 that earned him an All-American plaque). I am excited to see what this season brings out of him.
“Probably the most ‘unsung’ athlete on our team this fall and the past seasons for that matter is Springdale, Ark. native, Gonzales,” said Bucknam. “What a great addition to our program he has been since he transferred to Arkansas from Kansas. He has quietly led us to a number of cross country, indoor and outdoor team SEC championships, along with being in our top five when we finished 10th at the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships. Injured and held out of competition this past indoor and outdoor seasons, he is healthy now and has been training great all summer. Here is another athlete with ‘a chip on his shoulder’ out to prove himself in his final senior season. Add in Swain, Moehn and Findlay along with three outstanding freshman in Brown, Griffith and Mugeche and we have an outstanding competitive situation brewing”
The Razorbacks final three meets will feature two stops in College Station for the SEC Championships and NCAA South Central Regionals and a return to Louisville for the NCAA Championships.
2015 Arkansas Cross Country Schedule
Tuesday, Sept. 1, Oklahoma State Duals | Stillwater, Okla.
Saturday, Sept. 19, Iona Meet of Champions | New York, N.Y.
Saturday, Oct. 3, Chile Pepper Festival | Fayetteville, Ark.
Friday, Oct. 16, Pre-Nationals | Louisville Ky.
Friday, Oct. 30, SEC Championships | College Station, Texas
Friday, Nov. 13, NCAA South Central Regional | College Station, Texas
Saturday, Nov. 21, NCAA Championships | Louisville, Ky.
For more information on Arkansas track and field including in-meet updates, follow @RazorbackTF on Twitter.