Lady'Back In A 'Rush'

FAYETTEVILLE -- You wouldn't figure Arkansas senior cross country leader and Chancellor's Scholar Alison Zeinner-Rush as the type to join a mud fight in practice, but that's just what she did four years ago.

"My freshman year, Londa Bevins, Christin Wurth, Tracey Robertson, Allison Medlin and I were on a run and somebody slipped," Rush said. "Then somebody laughed. The next thing you knew, we got in a huge mud fight. I don't think the coaches ever knew."

Think again.

Said Arkansas women's coach Lance Harter: "They were all covered in mud when they came in. Tracey told me about it. She took pride in her playfulness."

It was the presence of top runners Robertson, Amy Yoder and Lilli Kleinmann on the UA team that had impressed Rush on her official visit to Arkansas.

Rush, of Cincinnati, said, "It was beautiful down here and I had a great feeling about Lance and the girls who were here. I visited the day after the Chile Pepper Festival, and the girls were all psyched about winning the Southeastern Conference that year."

Rush's coach at Colerain High in Cincinnati had called Harter and told him about "a hard worker who was not terribly fast but had a great academic record."

Indeed, Rush earned a 3.98 grade-point average at Colerain and maintained a 3.82 at Arkansas as one of the first Chancellor's Scholars, getting her degree in math last spring. She is on schedule to get her master's in statistics in 2006.

Three months ago, the former Alison Zeinner was married to Mike Rush, the Fayetteville High first-year cross country coach who ran the 800 meters for Arkansas from 1995-1998.

"My husband and I have some goals," Rush said. "We want to be competitive marathoners someday."

The two train together, running up to 14 miles at a stretch.

Last spring, after Rush qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships in the 10,000 meters but failed to score, she had a talk with Harter.

"She had made a huge breakthrough, but she asked what it would take for her to get to the next level and be a scorer at the national meet," Harter said. "I told her three things: (1) a total family commitment, with an increase in her Sunday run, (2) an injury-free season and (3) the right diet."

Rush and her then-fiance made the commitment, and now the Lady Razorbacks have their first true leader in a couple of years.

Rush finished fifth in the Chile Pepper two weeks ago, and Harter believes she could crack the top five in Saturday's SEC Championships at Agri Park.

"It's important that our team surround her early and not just chase her," Harter said.

Rush, who encourages her teammates daily, has confidence that Erica Sigmont, Penny Splichal, Kristina Smith, Maureen Scoitt, Shiloh Whiting, Laura Jakosky and others can stay in a pack with her.

"They're all strong and they know what they're doing," Rush said.

Last year in the SEC Meet at Athens, Ga., Rush had her only poor race of the season as both Tennessee and Georgia defeated Arkansas.

"I was terrible," Rush said. "It was hot and hilly, but there are no excuses. If you don't establish yourself by halfway through the (6,000-meter) race, then you're getting passed and it's no fun."

Afterward, Harter had a heart-to-heart talk with his team about its uncharacteristic finish.

"He sat us down and reminded us that we're here for a reason," Rush said. "Because we have the talent and will to be competitive. He remotivated us. If we run to our full potential on Saturday, at least five of us should have a good race."

Rush's competitiveness is reflected in the fact that she played every sport available until age 13, when she was convinced she would be a noted soccer player.

"But I kept doing well in track, and I really liked being on a team," she said. "Then I did well in the Great American Cross Country Festival in North Carolina and started getting letters from colleges (including Arkansas)."

Mike Rush had graduated by the time Zeinner arrived, but he was active in the local running community while assisting FHS. They met and were good friends for three-and-a-half years before he took her to a nice restaurant in Bella Vista one night.

"It was more money than I would spend on him," she joked. "But it was very romantic, and he popped the ring out."

When the two train together, Alison said, "I'm at my limit but he's rather comfortable."

Rush hopes to be comfortable with the SEC results on Saturday morning.

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