TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A unique combination of youth and experience is the calling card for the 16th-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team as it prepares itself for the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., at the LaVern Gibson Championship course, at 1:15 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
The Lady Razorbacks qualified for the NCAA meet by winning the South Central Regional for the first time since 2002 in what was the closest regional in meet history. A late surge by Arkansas’ top five runners allowed it to edge 19th-ranked Baylor, 45-46, and guarantee Arkansas its spot at the national championships. Making Arkansas’ contingent so interesting is its dichotomy of first-year and fourth-year runners. The elder statesmen of the group, Jessie Gordon, Laura Jakosky and Penny Splichal are each in their fourth and fifth year at Arkansas, while newbies Denise Bargiachi, Dacia Barr, Christine Kalmer and Kelly Vrshek are in their first years on the cross country course.
“I think that we can surprise some people,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “We need to run as a pack to be effective and if we have a day like we did at the regional, some great things could happen. This is a fair course that has a lot of open space to run.”
While Gordon, Jakosky and Splichal are the team leaders off the course, Kalmer has emerged as a star on the rise throughout the 2005 season. Arkansas’ top runner in four of six meets this fall, the South African native has consistently put together races that have rivaled some of Arkansas’ all-time best runners and another competition along those lines could make her the 15th Lady Razorback in school history to earn all-America honors.
“Christine has had a tremendous year,” Harter said. “She was ill at the regional meet and didn’t have her best race, but we’ve corrected that and I expect that she will do very well on this course.”
In order for Arkansas to succeed and improve upon its 16th-place pre-race ranking, it must continue to run as a team. Using a pack mentality, the Lady Razorbacks have put as little as 20 seconds between its first and fifth runners on more than one occasion this fall and if they can duplicate the effort one more time, could end Monday’s race as a top 10 squad.
For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.