FAYETTEVILLE – The 20th-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team has its work cut out when it hosts the Southeastern Conference Championships on Saturday afternoon as it seeks an 11th SEC cross country title in 14 years at the Agri Park Cross Country Course in Fayetteville at 9:00 a.m.
The Lady Razorbacks must go up against the 14th-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols and 17th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in their quest for the league title which eluded them in 2003. Arkansas finished third at last season’s championship after a string of five consecutive titles and hope to keep the trophy in Fayetteville once again.
“If we run a near perfect race we can win on Saturday,” Arkansas head cross country coach Lance Harter said. “If we have an average day, we could be third or worse. I am confident that the team will come ready to race and have a great showing.”
On Arkansas’ side at the 2004 Championships is the fact that it has yet to run with its full compliment of distance stars. At each of the Lady Razorbacks four meets, they have been missing at least one if not two or three of their top eight runners. Scheduled to make her 2004 debut at the SEC meet is junior all-American Erica Sigmont who has been recovering from a broken foot suffered at the NCAA Regional Championships last May.
Leading the Lady Razorbacks throughout the fall has been senior Alison (Zeinner) Rush. Arkansas’ top finisher in each of the three meets in which she has competed, Rush was the seventh overall finisher at the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival two weeks ago and is very familiar with the Agri Park Course.
“Ali came to me last spring and asked what she needed to do to run at her potential,” Harter said. “We went over her training and outlined a program that would fit her summer schedule and she not only stuck to it, but exceeded it. She has developed into a great leader for this team, which is something we lacked last year.”
Arkansas’ fiercest competition comes from the Lady Vols who enter the event as the defending champions and with the majority of their lineup intact from last season. The Georgia Bulldogs also have a veteran squad this fall and could be a major factor in the team scoring.
One of the changes in the format for the 2004 Championships is the number of athletes which coaches can run. While just the top five are counted in the team score, squads can run as many as 10 athletes in the competition making the room for error slightly larger as runners could have bad days and be covered by a team’s depth.
“The larger numbers allow us to compete people who might not make the team in a normal year,” Harter said. “This gives our younger runners a chance to compete at this level and experience the competition with less pressure making them better prepared for future races.”
The Lady Razorbacks begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, with the men’s race contested at 10:00 a.m. For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.