COLUMBIA, S.C. – Led by freshman Christine Kalmer, the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team missed by a scant three points in their bid to reclaim the Southeastern Conference championship on Saturday morning at the Fort Jackson Military Base in Columbia, S.C.
In what was the second closest race in the SEC women’s championships history, 17th-ranked Arkansas tallied 51 points to finish three points behind defending SEC champion and 21st-ranked Tennessee (48). The three-point margin is second to the 2004 race which was decided by two points in Fayetteville.
“Its getting real frustrating to be the bridesmaid and not the bride,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “We lost a lot of talent from last year’s team and freshmen can sometimes be unpredictable. Fortunately we have three that were able to rise to the occasion today and get us close. I think that our performance today speaks volumes for the future.”
Kalmer was one of four Arkansas runners to earn all-SEC honors when she finished fifth overall as she led a group of five Lady Razorbacks to a top 19 finish. While Arkansas’ fifth runner, Kelly Vrshek, finished ahead of the Lady Vols’ fifth, the three-point margin was not enough to overcome Tennessee’s lead.
“To have seven runners in the top 20 and not win is crazy,” Harter said. “The meet set up from the beginning as a dual between us and Tennessee and we just weren’t able to get the help that we needed to win.”
At the gun, a lead pack of 15 runners raced to the front of the Fort Jackson course filled predominantly with Arkansas’ cardinal and white and Tennessee’s unmistakable orange. The opening mile-and-a-half loop kept the group tightly packed before beginning to spread over the second of three rounds. Over the final mile-and-a-half lap it became evident that it would come down to the Lady Vols and Lady Razorbacks as runners fought to maintain and improve their positions.
For Arkansas it was a combination of young and old that led to its final score. Kalmer and senior Penny Splichal would claim their first and second all-SEC first team honors, respectively, while senior Laura Jakosky took her third all-conference honor with her second-team selection and freshman Denise Bargiachi her first second-team honor with ninth and 12th-place finishes.
“I feel like we had some big breakthroughs today,” said Harter. “This is Christine’s first SEC meet and she was a little in awe at how overwhelming it can be, but she did a great job . With Penny, you could see this race coming in her training and she got it put together today. Laura Jakosky was solid like she always is and Denise was an overwhelming surprise and she hasn’t missed a beat all season. Another true freshman Kelly Vrshek closed extremely well and passed several people down the stretch.”
Vrshek was Arkansas fifth runner at 18th overall and she was followed closely by Jessie Gordon (19th), Caroline Peyton (20th) Jennifer Harper (24th), Dacia Barr (30th) and Beth Fahey (32nd).
The Lady Razorbacks are back in action in two weeks when they compete for a South Central Regional title in Waco, Texas. For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.