WACO, Texas – Led by a strong 1-2 punch of Alison (Zeinner) Rush and Maureen Scott, the 18th-ranked University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team accomplished their task at the NCAA South Central Regional Championships on Saturday afternoon in Waco, Texas, by qualifying for the NCAA Championships with a second-place team finish.
Arkansas looked steady throughout the competition placing six runners among the top 19 and finished with 60 points, just nine behind 12th-ranked SMU. Baylor was third with 81 points Coincidentally, the nine-point margin against SMU was the same deficit that Arkansas faced when the two squads met at the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival in mid October.
“Hey, we’re going to nationals,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Apparently it is another close finish between us and SMU. SMU could be a top 10-12 team at the national championships and the difference between us and them is that they had one person run much better than expected. To have six runners in the top 20 is something that I don’t think we’ve done before and is a true reflection of our pack running capabilities.” Rush was Arkansas top finisher at seventh overall in 20:54 followed closely by Scott who crossed the line in eighth (20:55). Not far behind Arkansas’ top runners were the trio of Laura Jakosky, Jessie Gordon and Shiloh Whiting who finished 13th, 16th and 17th, respectively.
“Alison is a rock for us up front and Maureen has begun to join her,” Harter said. “Laura is getting there and that is something that a team has to have to compete at this level. Jessie has been a pleasant surprise all season.”
While the Lady’Backs have continued to count on the running of Rush, Scott and Jakosky this season, it has been Gordon that has made the squad that much better. After a tough sophomore season, the Ardmore, Okla., native has stepped up in her third year and made her first big performance at the Southeastern Conference Championships when she was Arkansas’ fifth runner.
Rounding out Arkansas’ seven performers were Kristina Smith and Tiffany Redlarczyk who earned 19th and 55th-place finishes. One of the more impressive stats from the race is not just Arkansas’ six runners among the top 20, but the times in which they accomplished it. The Lady Razorbacks top six were all within 34 seconds of each other as compared to SMU who had more than three minutes between their top six and Baylor who had one-and-a-half between the same numbers.
While the complete course at the Cottonwood Golf Course was six kilometers, most of the action took place in the first mile. Even though there was still a large pack of runners, Arkansas maintained its position with six in the top 20. The same held true at the 4k mark where the Lady Razorbacks continued to put pressure on their opponents. Giving SMU the edge in the final scoring was its third runner. The Mustangs placed three runners among the top five and a fourth in the 10 spot which made up for a weak fifth runner who crossed at 31st overall.
The NCAA recognizes the top 25 runners from each of the regional races as all-region selections and the Lady Razorbacks walk away from the meet with six certificates.
Next up for the Lady Razorbacks are the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Monday, Nov. 22. For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.