FAYETTEVILLE – The 16th-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team faces its toughest competition of the season this weekend when it takes on six top 30 teams at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday afternoon at 12:10 p.m.
Arkansas enters the contest well rested after sitting many of its top runners last weekend, but knows that its performance in Minnesota could determine the Lady Razorbacks NCAA status in March.
“This is by far the toughest competition we’ll see until the NCAA Championships,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “I think that if we can place in the top five, we’ll be all right. We’re bringing 11 to the meet and have all of our top runners aside from Erica (Sigmont) and Penny (Splichal). We just have to go out there and compete.”
On paper, Arkansas is the fourth best squad at the Invitational behind second-ranked Providence, #8 Princeton and #13 Columbia. The jam packed lineup also features #22 Arizona State, #26 Colorado State and #30 West Virginia as well as Baylor, California and UC-Santa Barbara who are all receiving votes in the national poll.
Leading Arkansas on the course is senior Alison (Zeinner) Rush who returned to campus in exceptional shape and in her lone race of the season, the Indiana State Invitational, was the Lady Razorbacks top finisher by a wide margin. An all-SEC performer, Rush won her first collegiate race last season by cross first at the Fayetteville Invitational and was a regular in Arkansas’ scoring five. She’ll be aided by juniors Maureen Scott, Laura Jakosky and Shiloh Whiting with sophomore Kristina Smith joining in the front pack fun. Other Lady Razorbacks in attendance at the meet include junior Lea Carruthers and Jessie Gordon, sophomore Laura Kerr, redshirt freshmen Tiffany Redlarczyk and Sarah Saffa and true freshman Beth Fahey.
Arkansas’ trip to the Griak is its first ever to the land of 1,000 lakes and should give the Lady Razorbacks the confidence they need to excel the rest of the season. A strong finish could even catapult Arkansas up the rankings, but for Harter the focus is on running well and not Arkansas’ ranking.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to prove that we belong among the top teams in the country,” Harter said. “If we stay within ourselves and focus on our training, we should be right with the rest of the leaders. Fortunately, we have tremendous depth so if someone falters, someone else can pick up the slack.”