Priming For An SEC Run

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas may be ranked third in the nation, but coach John McDonnell doesn't believe it.

Not yet, anyway.

The Razorbacks are coming off a win at the Oklahoma State Jamboree heading into today's 16th Annual Chile Pepper Festival, but the only sure thing for his team so far this year has been newcomers Josphat Boit and Marc Rodrigues.

The Razorbacks will host 34 teams for a 10,000-meter race at the Razorback Agri-Park Course off North Garland in Fayetteville.

Boit and Rodrigues have been Arkansas' top-two finishers in each of their last two races and Boit has twice claimed Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Week honors with wins at Missouri Southern and OSU.

Three-time All-American senior Jason Sandfort has been sidelined with an Achilles heel injury and the rest of the Razorbacks positions have been split between veterans and rookies.

The SEC Championships in Fayetteville on Oct. 30 will be Arkansas' next meet, giving today's race added importance.

"We're getting close to the part of the season two weeks before conference where we have to start looking a little better," McDonnell said. "I'm not disappointed. This team could be a top-five team. We're ranked No. 3, but I think that's kind of on tradition.

"We haven't proven it yet, but we'll have a chance to prove it."

Before Arkansas seeks its 31st straight conference cross country championship, McDonnell needs some of his runners to give him a reason to put them on the newly expanded 10-man roster for the SEC meet.

Junior Luis Bordes, who had a clutch 15th-place performance two years ago to help run the SEC streak to 29, won the season-opening Arkansas Invitational and has finished fourth and third for Arkansas since.

Juniors Matt Gunn and Said Ahmed and senior Eric Gross have finished in Arkansas' top five while redshirt freshmen Tyler Hill, the Feltner twins, Chase and Travis, from Russellville and Jonathon Norris have consistently improved.

McDonnell would love to see a jump in performance from Ahmed, who ran a personal-best 3:37.49 in the 1,500 this summer to qualify for the U.S Olympic Trials.

"Gosh, he should be a top-20 (cross country All-American) guy if he ever makes up his mind to run cross country," McDonnell said. "I think he will this year. I think he realizes that if he can't run cross country, he can't run a world-class 1,500."

Sandfort, who has improved his finish at the NCAA Championships every season, will return today in the team's first 10,000-meter race of the season.

Boit and Rodrigues, who was fourth at the Chile Pepper last year while at Cloud County Community College, will be challenged by serious competition.

"There will be 20 really class runners up front," McDonnell said.

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