WACO, Texas – Senior Penny Splichal was the 19th-ranked University of Arkansas’ top finisher and one of six all-region athletes as the Lady Razorbacks reclaimed the NCAA South Central Region title on Saturday morning at the Cottonwood Creek Golf Course in Waco, Texas with a one-point victory.
The Lady Razorbacks scored 45 points on way to their first regional championship since 2002, edging 20th-ranked Baylor (46) by a single point. The 25th-ranked Rice Owls finished a distant third with 78 points. Arkansas’ first-place finish in the region guarantees it a spot in next week’s NCAA Championship in Terra Haute, Ind. Arkansas’ participation at the NCAA meet is their second consecutive trip to the biggest cross country meet of the season and its 23rd consecutive season that at least one member of the Lady Razorback squad has competed at the meet.
“We finally got it back,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “This was as close as you can get. Penny ran her best race yet and another real breakthrough for her. Between our first and fifth runners we only had a 40 second difference and that was the key to winning today. Now we are healthy and ready to run at the NCAA meet.”
Splichal clocked a 6,000-meter time of 21:04 to place fifth overall. Followed closely by fellow senior Laura Jakosky, redshirt freshman Dacia Barr and senior Jessie Gordon who placed eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively, Arkansas placed four runners among the top 10 scorers with their fifth, freshman Christine Kalmer, finishing 13th overall.
“We placed four in front of their third runner and six in front of their fifth,” Harter said. “We had to run as a pack in order to win today.”
Baylor took the top two spots in the competition with their second runner passing several people over the final mile to make up much needed points. After the Arkansas contingent ran across the line, Baylor scored the next two runners, but Arkansas’ Christine Kalmer and Kelly Vrshek put the meet out of reach with their 14th and 15th-place finishes.
For Splichal, her finish as Arkansas’ top runner is the first time this year she has been the lead Lady’Back and continues her string of impressive performances that began at the SEC Championships two weeks ago. In that race she was Arkansas’ number two runner behind Kalmer. According to Harter, Jakosky, Barr and Gordon each ran a solid 6,000 meters and kept with the game plan set up before the competition. Kalmer got off to a tremendous start with the leaders but began to fade after the first 1,000 meters prompting Harter to give her new direction which she executed for the Arkansas win. Vrshek’s time of 21:50 was not a career best, but Harter gleamed about the way the freshman ran and believed that it was her best race yet.
The Lady Razorbacks move on to the NCAA Championships to be held next Monday afternoon, Nov. 21. For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.