Razorbacks Looking to Take First Step Towards
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas will be looking to take its first step towards a fourth straight NCAA cross country crown this weekend when the Razorbacks travel to College Station, Texas, to compete in the District VI Cross Country Championships.
The Razorbacks are ranked third in the latest edition of the MONDO National Cross Country poll and are among the favorites to challenge for the national championship later this month in Furman, S.C. But first, the Hogs must take care of business on the district level.
“This weekend is like a preliminary race in track, you just have to qualify to get to the national meet,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell says. “Only two teams out of 38 advance out of our district so you can’t take it too lightly. Texas A&M is a good team and Baylor and Texas are pretty good. We have to make sure we are in the top two.”
When the Razorbacks step to the line, they will be minus three of their top runners. Sophomore Alistair Cragg, freshman Jason Sandfort and junior Dirk Heinze will all spend the weekend resting for the Hogs’ run at the national title. Cragg is still recovering from a slight knee injury, but should be full speed for the national meet. For Sandfort and Heinze, it is a matter of keeping their tanks full for a run at the 12th national championship in school history.
“It is a little bit scary what we are doing,” McDonnell says. “We are not that deep on the end. Daniel (Lincoln), Silverus (Kimeli) and (Fernando) Cabada need to stay in that top six. I think that our guys are confident. Every year we have rested some people. Some people it helps and others it doesn’t.”
Arkansas has cruised to victories in all four outings this season including wins at the Arkansas Invitational, Cowboy Jamboree and Chile Pepper Invitational. In their last meet, the Razorbacks blistered the field and tallied their 28th consecutive league cross country title at the 2001 Southeastern Conference Championships at Auburn, Ala.
While focus will remain on team goals, McDonnell will also be assessing his team from top to bottom on Saturday morning. The Razorback head coach wants Lincoln, arguably the Hogs’ top runner, to turn in a workmanlike performance in anticipation of a bigger race down the road.
“For a guy like Daniel Lincoln, hopefully it will be kind of like a study state for him. He is that good. I’ve told him already that I don’t necessarily want him chasing the individual title. If he finishes in the top two or three, that is fine.”
At the other end of the lineup, however, a spot on the roster for the national championships may be at stake. Each school can take seven runners to the NCAA Championships. As so often is the case, the competition to crack the Razorback lineup may be more harrowing than most collegiate races.
Lincoln, Cragg, Cabada, Sandfort, Kimeli and Heinze are primed to fill the top six spots in the Razorback lineup leaving one position open. Junior Ryan Joseph along with sophomores Westley Alkin and Chris Mulvaney are the most likely candidates to fill the seventh spot.
“They know that only seven guys go to the national meet. We have a solid six, but that seventh spot is wide open. They will have to compete for that last position.”
A flat course layout and expected moderate temperatures will likely only bolster the Razorbacks’ advantage. Arkansas will be the heavy favorite to come away with the team title and advance to the national meet
While the Hogs’ legendary coach is resting three of his top runners in an attempt to prep his squad for future competition, it would be a mistake to assume that the owner of 36 national championships has lowered his expectations. McDonnell has had the same standard for the past 30 years and Saturday’s race is no different.
“I want to win the meet,” McDonnell says. “I don’t want to get second. We haven’t lost this year yet. Now wouldn’t be a good time to start.”
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