Arkansas Hosts Regional Cross Country Meet

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas' track and field facilities are no strangers to hosting NCAA championship competition.

Seemingly every year now, the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships take place at the Randal Tyson Track Center. And the newly built John McDonnell Field is set to host the 2009 outdoor national championships.

But Arkansas' Agri Park Cross Country Course has yet to be tested on the national stage. It hosts one of the largest non-championship cross country races in the country, the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival, as well as its share of SEC Championships. But it has never hosted an NCAA Championship event.

That is until this year when Arkansas hosts the NCAA Cross Country South Central Regional this morning. But officials have already voted to move the event away from Fayetteville next year, so cross country fans in Northwest Arkansas will have to enjoy the NCAA action while it lasts.

"This is the first cross country regional ever held in Fayetteville," Arkansas coach John McDonnell said. "I never thought I'd see one here because you have to vote on it. And of course we'd always get out-voted because nobody wanted to go to Northwest Arkansas. But finally we made a bid for it and got it."

The men are the first to take the course this morning, followed closely by the women. Arkansas enters the competition as the favorite to win in both the men's 10K and the women's 6K, but each team has one ranked team closely behind.

No. 16 Texas provides the strongest test for the No. 7 Razorbacks. The Longhorns finished third with a score of 58 at a highly competitive Big XII championship meet two weeks ago and placed three runners on the All-Big XII team.

But the Razorbacks aren't that concerned about Texas potentially knocking them off at the regional, McDonnell said. The Arkansas runners simply want to run a clean, injury-free race to finish within the top two, both of which advance to the NCAA Championships automatically.

The No. 10 Lady'Backs enter their race with the position that they could possibly advance to the NCAA championship race without placing first or second because their resume is strong enough for an at-large bid, Lady'Back coach Lance Harter said.

The Lady'Backs have wins against all but two this year (No. 2 Oregon and No. 18 Texas Tech). The Lady'Backs also enter the competition just off their second consecutive SEC crown, their 12th in 17 seasons in the league.

Last year Arkansas swept the South Central Regional just like it did at the SECs that year. Shawn Forrest clocked a 10K time of 29 minutes, 43.1 seconds to finish third last year and enters the race as Arkansas' top runner after fifth- and third-place finishes at the Chile Pepper and SEC meets, respectively.

The Lady'Backs have been all about the collective. Nothing illustrates that more than the fact that only Christine Kalmer has multiple top 10 finishes this season in five events. Kalmer finished in second place at the SEC meet.

"Christine had a breakthrough race at the SEC meet," Harter said. "Her training continues to be outstanding. In fact, our front six have been running and training better than they have in the past, so we're really pleased with how they've been coming around."

The men's race begins at 10 a.m. today while the women's race is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.

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