Lady'Backs Looking For Redemption

FAYETTEVILLE -- A funny thing happened to the Lady Razorbacks as they tried to win their 11th Southeastern Conference cross country title in 13 years last season at Athens, Ga.

They didn't win it.

In fact, they finished third behind champion Tennessee and runner-up Georgia.

The Lady'Backs hope to make amends when they host the conference meet for the second time. They won it at the Prairie Grove Battlefield in 1994 and want to repeat at Agri Park at 9 a.m. today.

It won't be easy, as favored Tennessee returns seven of its top eight runners from last season and Georgia also returns most of its team.

Arkansas coach Lance Harter said everything must go well for his runners, who are finally healthy.

"We have to run our best as a team, and if we do we could win by maybe four points," Harter said. "If we don't, we'll lose by 15 or 16."

Angela Homan of Auburn is back to defend her individual title -- last year she covered 6,050 meters in 21:49.76 on a hot day -- but Auburn is not considered a threat for the team crown.

Brooke Novak and Megan Cauble placed third and sixth respectively for Tennessee in 2003, with Mindy Sullivan 11th.

Arkansas' only two All-SEC performers last year were Shiloh Whiting and Laura Jakosky in 12th and 13th place respectively. They return, along with new leader Alison Zeinner-Rush, who has paced the Lady'Backs in all three of her races.

"We've got to surround Alison," Harter said. "We can't just chase her."

Young Lady'Backs who have shown a willingness to do that this season are sophomore Kristina Smith of Anchorage, Alaska, and freshman Tiffany Redlarczyk of Dyer, Ind.

Arkansas juniors Penny Splichal and Maureen Scott also have the capability, as does oft-injured junior Erica Sigmont of Melbourne, Australia, who could provide a shot in the arm.

Sigmont, in her one SEC appearance, finished 13th in 2002 to help Arkansas win the title. She has battled asthma this season but has had good workouts lately.

Smith has also improved after a siege of bronchitis.

Splichal was Arkansas' fourth finisher in the Chile Pepper Festival after a three-week layoff caused by a stress reaction.

Harter said the key for Zeinner-Rush (fifth overall in the Chile Pepper) is to "stay aggressive in the middle of the race and gut it out."

The fact that each team is allowed to start 10 runners instead of eight this year could help No. 20 Arkansas, which has good depth.

"We have five or six who are capable of running really well on a given day," Harter said.

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