Lady'Backs Host 'Icebreaker'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Because the NCAA mandates a cross country meet after 21 practices, the Arkansas women will play host to Missouri Southern at 6 p.m. today at Agri Farms.

Coach Lance Harter will run a skeleton crew, including juniors Penny Splichal, Jessie Gordon, Laura Jakosky and Lea Carruthers, sophomores Kristina Smith and Laura Insell, and freshman Tiffany Redlarczyk.

"It's a little icebreaker to shake out the cobwebs," Harter said. "Missouri Southern is a perennial Top-10 Division II team. And there may be a couple of runners competing unattached."

Next week, Arkansas goes to Terre Haute, Ind., site of the NCAA Championships the next three years, for a meet at Indiana State.

"That's a gorgeous cross country course on city-recreation land," Harter said. "But you know the weather there in late November is going to be bad one of the next three years."

The Lady'Backs didn't even make it out of regionals last year, except for Shiloh Whiting, and for the first time did not finish in the top two in the Southeastern Conference Meet.

Tennessee, the surprise winner last year, is again favored while Arkansas is picked second, ahead of Georgia, last year's runner-up at Athens, Ga.

Arkansas placed third last year, and Harter blamed himself for some recruiting decisions. But the Lady'Backs came back with a vengeance to win the SEC Outdoor Track and Field title behind Olympic sprinters Veronica Campbell and LaShaunte'a Moore.

"If we want to win a conference title this year it better be in cross country, because we lost 40 points when Veronica and LaShaunte'a turned pro," Harter said, grinning.

This is the first year since 1997 that Arkansas has not been picked to win the women's cross country title, but Harter said, "There's a huge difference between our team this year and last year. The team has made a commitment to be better, and that has shown up the past week in practice."

In particular, senior Alison Zeinner Rush and juniors Maureen Scott and Splichal have provided leadership, Harter said. Jakosky has led also, but still has a sore hip after not finishing the NCAA 10,000-meter race.

Harter looks to two redshirt freshmen, Sarah Saffa and Tiffany Redlarczk, to announce themselves this fall.

"Sarah was second in the 5,000 in junior nationals and has made inroads," Harter said. "And Tiffany could do the same thing."

Tennessee's title last year could be a "huge motivational factor" for the Lady'Backs, Harter said. But the Lady Vols return six of their top seven runners, while Georgia returns everyone.

"If we take care of ourselves, we could still be a major player," Harter said. "Last year we blossomed late and had six distance runners in the NCAA Outdoor."

The SEC Meet is Oct. 30 in Gainesville, Fla.

Arkansas hosts the annual Chile Pepper Festival on Oct. 16.

"Our goal is to win the SEC, win the regional and be in the Top 15 nationally," Harter said.

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