FAYETTEVILLE — Just like last year in Baton Rouge, La., Arkansas’ men’s and women’s cross country teams swept the SEC Cross Country Championships run in a 40-degrees cold rain Friday in Columbia, Mo.
Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men, SEC triple crown winners for 2020-2021 in cross country, indoor and outdoor track, and the SEC Cross Country champions from 2010-2017 before interrupted in 2018 and 2019 by Ole Miss, won their second consecutive SEC Cross Country Championship Friday, 40-59 over runner-up Ole Miss with host Missouri, 105, a surprise third in the 12-team, race.
Coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks women , also SEC Cross Country-Indoor Track-Outdoor Track triple crown winners for 2020-2021 and the 2020 NCAA Indoor champions, won Friday’s SEC Country title 68-83 over Ole Miss with Alabama, 91, third, and Kentucky, 94, fourth in the 14-team women’s race in Columbia.
Bucknam’s men behind Amon Kemboi’s 23:37.0 second-place to Alabama’s Eliud Kipsang in the 8,000-meter race, needed surprising performances from Jacob McLeod, 23:43.48, for fifth, and Myles Richter, 23:56 for 10th, as on the season better performing Razorbacks Andrew Kibet, Emmanuel Cheboson and former SEC Cross Country champion Gilbert Boit finishing further down the line than Bucknam anticipated.
Kibet and Cheboson, finishing in a virtual dead heat 23:58.4 with Kibet officially 11th and Cheboson officially 12th, completed Arkansas’ top five scorers.
Boit, 24:09.4, and Ryan Murphy, 24:06, were the Razorbacks non-scoring sixth and seventh finishers but shoved Ole Miss scoring fourth and fifth runners Dereck Elkins and Cruz Culpepper further back in the scoring at 24th and 25th.
“The top five order was a little different but that’s good because Jacob McLeod and Myles Richter stepped up in a big way,” Bucknam said. “They took a big step forward from where they were at Pre-Nats and that’s going to bode well for us at the National Championships (Nov. 20 in Tallahassee, Fla. following the South Central District Qualifying meet Nov. 12 in Waco, Texas) if they continue on that path. Amon ran a good race. The Alabama athlete (Kipsang) is an All-American and outstanding like Amon. They battled to the end and finished ahead of the outstanding Ole Miss runner (third-place Mario Garcia Romo, 23:38.2) who won the SEC meet last year.”
Bucknam said he presumed Kibet, Cheboson and Boit would be among the meet’s top five representing the favored Razorbacks, nationally No. 6 as the SEC’s highest ranked men’s team, “but that they got the job done,” training through this meet for the NCAA Championships.
“We have our sights set on the national championship,” Bucknam said. “We didn’t back off from the training going into this meet. So some of our guys’ legs weren’t 100 percent. We’re proud of our overall program because nobody in our league does what we do coming off a (SEC) triple crown from last year.”
Though also SEC triple crown champions with recent national championships in cross country (2019) and indoor track (2021), Harter’s Razorbacks went into Friday’s meet ranked only third in the SEC as 15th nationally to Alabama’s fifth and Ole Miss, 11th.
As per usual in the 14-team field, Harter’s Razorbacks won the team title handily even with three highly recruited freshmen left home injured along with highly recruited Taylor Ewert (broken foot) and Benton’s Gracie Hyde (the transfer from the University of Central Arkansas) dropping out of Friday’s race with a hip injury.
The rest of what also has been a variously injury[-plagued roster, ran as a complete team Friday and it showed, Harter said.
“Hunter (Yurachek, Arkansas’ athletic director) said, “I kind of knew you were sandbagging and playing possum,” Harter said. “I said, ‘You don’t understand. We just never had the opportunity to put our top six on the course at the same time because of one thing or another. I thought this was possible that we would stand up and be recognized.
After Alabama reigning NCAA champion Mercy Chelengat won the SEC women’s race on Friday’s 6,000-meters course in 19:55.2 with Auburn’s Joyce Kimeli, 20:04.1 second mainstay All-American Krissy Gear, 20:08.1, led the Razorbacks placing third. Isabel Van Kamp, 20:29, was the surprising next for Arkansas in 10th.
Lauren Gregory, normally running right with or better than Gear, was the third Razorback finisher, 12th in 20:34.9.
Meghan Underwood, 20:51.9, was Arkansas’ fourth finisher at 18th followed by fifth and final scorer Logan Morris, 25th in 21:03 with sixth-runner Julia Paternain, 21:17.75 finishing ahead of Ole Miss’ fifth scorer.
“Isabel ran probably ran one of the greatest races of her career be it cross country or track,” Harter said. “Lauren struggled at 4 or 5K but she’s fine. Just an off day. She’ll be ready for Nationals. Meghan had an extraordinary effort when the chips were down. Logan Morris is coming on. I think she’ll be a very strong fifth for our national meet.”