The season opener just got a little sooner for men's and women's cross country -- thanks to the forecast of rain from Hurricane Isaac. Men's coach Chris Bucknam and women's coach Lance Harter want to avoid running on soft conditions from the forecast of heavy rains.
"We just want to keep our runners healthy," Bucknam said Tuesday. "We don't want to slip and slide with spikes on for the first time. It's just better that we moved the meet up."
The Razorback Invitational was set for Friday, but the forecast looks much better for Thursday. The women will run at 5:30 with the men to follow at 6 p.m. The meet will be at Agri Park, the home course for the Razorbacks.
"This will be about just getting us warmed up for the season," Bucknam said. "We will run a shorter course, four miles. We are just getting into our training and this will be a chance for some of our younger guys to get a feel for a meet.
"I'd call it more of a wake-up call for our guys after a long summer layoff. It's just important to get into a routine. We just want to make sure we miss the rains."
Both Bucknam and Harter will hold out most of the veteran runners to get a look at some talented newcomers.
"We want to give some freshmen an opportunity to see what they can do," Harter said. "We'll run some freshmen unattached, too."
Bucknam likes what he sees with his team, especially the condition of its legs.
"We are healthy for the first time in awhile," he said. "It's great to have Solomon Haile ready to go."
Haile was the bell cow two years ago, but took a redshirt in cross country last fall because of injury.
"We need that big hitter back at the front of our lineup," Bucknam said. "He is healthy and that's exciting."
The Hogs won the SEC last season, but did not finish in the top two at regionals and did not qualify for the NCAA meet.
"We are excited about this season because we felt we have unfinished business," he said. "We got the SEC title (in cross country) and that's always our first priority. We were ranked 15th, but we were disappointed that we were out of the NCAA and that's disheartening."
Along with Haile, the Hogs return defending NCAA individual champ Eric Fernandez. They added junior college national champ Kemoy Campbell from South Plains.
David Flynn, transfer from Western Colorado, was an All-SEC performer in the outdoor track season after arriving in January. He's also a proven standout in cross country with leadership skills.
Freshman Cale Wallace won the Chile Pepper as a high school standout. Bucknam said, "Cale looks good early, is fit and might be in our top seven."
Harter returns the nucleus of the SEC's runnerup finish squad, led by junior Stephanie Brown and sophomores Kaitlin Flattmann and Jessica Jackson. Flattmann was the SEC's freshman of the year.
"We had three freshmen score at the NCAA meet and we have added a good group of freshmen to this team and an outstanding transfer."
The transfer is courtesy of the school's outstanding graduate program in Food Process Engineering. Semehar Tesfaye ran in the 2010 NCAA meet with Iowa State. She was a prep star at Fargo, N.D., and was born in Ethiopia.
"She has exceptional talent," said Harter, who compared Tesfaye to Deena Drossin, an Olympic medalist and former Razorback.
Harter has already seen Tesfaye's arrival pay dividends in the training of the squad.
"She trains at the same kind of level that Deena did here," Harter said. "She has challenged our team to raise their level. They have been forced to up their game.
"It's going to be fun to watch her in a meet. We are going to do what you do with a great athlete. I'd compare her to a Darren McFadden. You just give her the ball and see what happens, like you do with McFadden."
Rain Moves Up Cross Country Start
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