FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Racing action returns as the 2009 Arkansas women’s cross country team and head coach Lance Harter gear up for the fall. Not only are the Razorbacks rich in the youth of incoming freshman but they possess a wealth of experience including the triple of threat Megan Jackson, Jillian Rosen and Miranda Walker.
"We definitely have some big shoes to fill with the loss of three seniors and a star like Catherine White," Harter said. "We have to rely on Megan, Jillian and Miranda to lead this team and take on the nurturing of our newcomers."
Rosen is a two-time all-region performer, an All-SEC honoree and the 2007 SEC Freshman of the Year. She was also named to the 2007 SEC All-Freshman team. Jackson earned the first all-region honor of her career, finishing 25th overall at the 2008 NCAA South Central Regional Championships.
"We have some runners that have great race experience," Harter said. "One of two seasons is usually all it takes to get used to running in the SEC and at the NCAA level. We are young and rebuilding but we have a lot of talent and potential."
Arkansas returns nine student-athletes from last year’s roster, including senior Ashley Williams and sophomores Samantha Learch and Cali George. Learch, a 2008 SEC All-Freshman team honoree, returns to the lineup after she finished 42nd overall and seventh among Razorbacks at the NCAA South Central Regional Championships last season.
The Razorbacks welcome back a fit Walker, who is ready for another successful season after suffering from an injury that sidelined her competition in 2008. Prior to her injury, she was an All-SEC and all-region honoree and competed at the SEC, NCAA Regional and NCAA Championships.
"Miranda is a great addition for us, right when we need her most," Harter said. "She is rested and recovered and will make an immediate impact on our scoring. She’s tough and determined to bring her racing back to where it was before her injury."
The Razorbacks add depth and ability to their roster with five freshmen. Katelin Cherry is a native of Oklahoma City, Okla., and attended Westmoore High School. She competed in the distance events with personal bests of 5:13 in the 1,600 meters, 11:10 in the 3,200 meters and 17:46 in the 5,000 meters. She was a three-time runner-up at the state cross country championships while setting the Westmoore school record.
Keri Wood is a native of College Station, Texas. While competing for A&M Consolidated High School, she was a two-time cross country state qualifier with a seventh-place finish as a sophomore and an eighth-place finish as a junior.
Stephanie Brown of Downs, Ill., and Tri-Valley High School holds personal bests of 2:08.10 in the 800 meters, 4:56.46 in the 1,600 meters and 4:54.87 in the mile. At the Arkansas High School Invitational in January, she won the mile in a time of 5:07.19, her then-personal best, and won the 800 meters with a personal best of 2:08.41.
Alyssa Allison of Festus, Mo., and Festus High School was the 2008 Missouri State Champion at 1,600 meters (4:51.70) and 3,200 meters (10:48.58). She competed last summer in the 3000-meter steeplechase at the Pan Am Junior Championships held in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Paige Johnston of Midlothian, Va., and Midlothian High School, is one of the top 1,000-meter runners in the nation. Clocked in 2008, her PR of 2:51.05 was the No. 2 time in the U.S. and is No. 3 in Virginia on the all-time list. At the 2008 Virginia State Championships, she finished fourth as a member of the 4×800-meter relay (9:22.48) and second in the 800 meters (2:16.07). At the 2008 Virginia Cross Country Championships, she placed ninth with a time of 18:56.
"We are very excited about this group of freshmen," Harter said. "Some of them are the best in their event in the nation. That will translate incredibly to collegiate competition. As they increase their base training for cross country, coupled with speed training for racing on the track, that’s a great combination for success."
The Razorback season will start at home with the Arkansas Invitational on Sept. 4. This season’s schedule includes a race in Joplin, Mo. for the Missouri Southern Stampede on Sept. 19. Then it is on to Madison, Wis. for the Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 3. The Razorbacks return to Fayetteville for the Chile Pepper Festival on Oct. 17.
The SEC Championship race is in Oxford, Miss., Oct. 31, and the NCAA South Central Regional Championship race will be in Waco, Texas on Nov. 14. The final stop is Terre Haute, Ind. at the NCAA Championships, Nov 23.