FAYETTEVILLE – Denise Bargiachi finished third overall to lead the University of Arkansas Lady Razorback cross country team to a second-place team finish at the NCAA South Central Regional Championship in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Razorbacks scored 70 points to finish second behind Rice who took the team title with 54 points. In a tight race, Baylor finished third with 75 points followed by Texas A&M (140) and Texas (148).
“The key for us is that we got our tickets to the national meet,” Arkansas head coach Lance Harter said. “Some of our runners didn’t have a great meet and others had real breakthroughs, but now we need to put this race behind us and move on. I was reminded after the race that the last time we finished second at the national meet, we also finished second at the regional.”
Bargiachi was Arkansas’ lead runner throughout the 6,000-meter race. Getting off to a solid start, she and the rest of the Lady Razorbacks sat among the race frontrunners as the course narrowed from the start. At the one mile marker five of the Lady Razorback runners were among the race’s top 10 with a pack of runners from Rice sitting on their heels waiting for an opportunity to strike.
The door opened over the course of the next mile as it wound outside the sight of the crowd. As the runners emerged from a wooded area, Rice had moved six runners into the top 16 overall while only three Lady Razorbacks were among the top 17. Baylor also made a strong push in the second mile with five runners among the race’s top 21.
The final mile of the race forced the Lady Razorbacks to be at their best if they wanted to grab one of the top two qualifiers to the national championship. Bargiachi moved from fourth to third as she crossed the line to become the first Lady Razorback since 2002 (Londa Bevins, 2nd) to be among the regional’s top three finishers. Her effort was mirrored by other Lady’Backs like freshman Jillian Rosen and junior Dacia Barr who also passed runners over the final mile to secure Arkansas’ finish. Junior Christine Kalmer was Arkansas’ second finisher at eighth overall and she was followed by Rosen (14th), Barr (22nd) and freshman Catherine White (23rd) to give the Lady’Backs’ their final team score of 70.
Arkansas’ guaranteed trip to the NCAA Championships is its fourth consecutive team entry to the meet in Terre Haute, Ind., and its 17th in 18 years. Each of Arkansas’ top five runners earned all region honors, Bargiachi and Kalmer each taking their third, Barr her second and Rosen and White their first.
One of the positive’s that came out of Arkansas’ race on Saturday was its improvement in time compared to its last 6,000-meter contest at Agri Park, the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival. In that race, Bargiachi was again Arkansas’ top finisher and ran 21:10.4 to finish eighth overall. She improved 22 seconds from that performance at the Regional by finishing in 20:48.6. Four of Arkansas’ seven runners improved upon their Chile Pepper race times, the biggest improvement coming from Kalmer who dropped 36 seconds off her Chile Pepper performance.
The Lady Razorbacks finish up their season on Monday, Nov. 19, at the NCAA Championships. For more information about Lady Razorback cross country or about Arkansas women’s athletics, please go to www.ladybacks.com.