Lady'Backs Look To Reclaim Title

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas has won 10 of the 12 Chile Pepper women's cross country festivals, but slipped to third last season and is ranked below No. 11 SMU for today's 10:30 a.m. race at Agri Park.

The Lady Razorbacks, ranked 21st, are finally approaching full strength as they prepare for the Southeastern Conference Championships on Oct. 30, also at Agri Park.

Alison Zeinner Rush has led Arkansas in both of her races this season, assuming a leadership role that no one else really filled the past two seasons.

"Alison is a living example of hard work and determination," said UA coach Lance Harter. "We haven't had a true leader lately who would say, 'We've got to get this done and you've got to do this.' Ali is mature enough to do that."

Arkansas finished behind winner Nevada and Texas Tech in the Chile Pepper last season, then also finished third in the SEC meet --its lowest-ever result under Harter. This year the Lady'Backs have been picked second in the SEC behind Tennessee.

But Harter said, "If our training markers are any indicator, we're ready to race really well. Our times are right there with the great legacy of Deena Drossin (Kastor) and her (1992-95) teams."

Arkansas junior Erica Sigmont of Melbourne, Australia, has recovered from a broken foot she suffered in the 2004 outdoor track season, but recently got bronchitis, which then turned into an asthma attack.

"I picked up six medications for her alone last Friday," Harter said. "But she ran six miles on Monday and felt better. Then Kristina Smith had to go to the doctor on Monday. We'll see how it goes with those two."

Arkansas has enough depth that Harter could rest a runner or two while pointing toward the SEC meet.

"At least Penny Splichal is back in the lineup now," Harter said. "She had great workouts last Saturday and Monday.

"I think when we get everyone at 100 percent, we're actually pretty formidable," Harter said. "The dilemma has been getting everyone there on the same day."

The good news is that Arkansas gets to enter 10 runners in the SEC this year.

"We've never done that before," Harter said. "The SEC has approved the allocation so we can watch our depth a little better. It will still be seven runners at regionals and nationals. It comes down to who's going to step up and do the job so we can confirm our lineup."

Today's 35-team field also includes Georgia Tech, LSU, Ole Miss, SMU, TCU and Virginia Tech.

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