FAYETTEVILLE — Fresh off Southeastern Conference and regional championships, sixth-ranked Arkansas’ women’s cross country team will make a return trip to Louisville, Kentucky for the NCAA Cross Country Championships Saturday morning.
The Razorbacks have finished in the top-10 two out of the past three season and are looking for its first podium finish since 1999, which saw them finish as the team runner-ups with a score of 125 points.
“Everyone has a strength and everyone has a weakness,” head coach Lance Harter said. “The momentum we created with the win at the SEC and the win at the regional meet gives us all of the momentum we could possibly ask for.”
Automatic Bids: No. 1 Colorado, No. 2 New Mexico, No. 3 San Francisco, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 NC State, T-No. 6 Arkansas, No. 8 Michigan, No. 9 Providence, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Furman, No. 13 Villanova, T-No. 14 Iowa State, T-No. 14 Michigan State, T-No. 17 Georgia, No. 20 Mississippi, No. 23 Oklahoma State, No. 26 Dartmouth, Texas
At-Large Bids: T-No. 6 Oregon, No. 13 Boise State, No. 14 BYU, T-No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 19 Utah State, No. 21 Minnesota, No. 22 Washington, T-No. 23 California, No. 25 Eastern Kentucky, No. 27 Eastern Michigan, No. 28 Syracuse, No. 29 Indiana, No. 30 Columbia
“It’s clear cut,” Harter said. “The University of San Francisco and the University of New Mexico and their international crew. The defending champion Oregon has everyone back. We’re excited about representing Arkansas and our crew is capable of handling those types of people.”
The Razorback Seven
Nikki Hiltz, Therese Haiss, Lauren Gregory, Ashton Endsley, Sydney Brown, Carina Viljoen, Taylor Werner
Harter will take a young crew that features two freshmen and two sophomores to Louisville including returning All-American Taylor Werner. The sophomore became the sixth freshman in Arkansas history to earn All-American recognition finishing 16th with a time of 20:10.50 at the championship meet last season.
“I’m so excited for nationals,” said Werner. “Our team is ready as ever and I think we could surprise a lot of people if we race to our potential. Racing the course and racing against other competitive teams will definitely play into our advantage. We know how to race the course and can get an idea of how the race will go based on some of our competitors. As long as we go in confident and race ready, then we have as much advantage as anybody else. I have a good feeling about it this year!”
The Razorbacks will be led by seniors Nikki Hiltz and Therese Haiss Saturday. Hiltz has been stellar for the Razorbacks this postseason, finishing in first at regionals while shaving nearly 40 seconds off of her personal best time in a 6K race. The Santa Cruz, California native has led as the fastest Razorback in three of her five races this season.
“The goal this weekend for the team is to podium,” said Hiltz. “That’s awarded to the top-4 teams and going in we are ranked sixth, but at championships meets rankings don’t mean anything. Anything can happen. If we go out there and do what we’ve been doing all season long, I know we will walk away with a trophy. Personally, I’m shooting for All-American and I know that some of my teammates are as well. If we can find each other early on in the race, run as a pack and work together I know we will get there.”
Arkansas at the NCAA Championships
- NCAA Championship Appearances » (first 1982, 16th place)
- Podium finishes » 5
- All-Americans » 32
- Best finish » Runner-up (4x)
- Lowest score » 71 (1993)
We’ve Been There
The Razorbacks are familiar with the course at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park, having competed in there earlier this season at Pre-Nationals. Harter’s crew faced some of the same top teams at that meet that they will face again at the championships. The Razorbacks finished ahead of six top-25 programs at the time, including then No. 4 Michigan. Arkansas finished third overall at the race, just behind then No. 2 Oregon and No. 1 Colorado.
The women will lead off the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships at 9:45 a.m. CT with the 6K race. The men’s 10K race will follow at 10:45 a.m. after which an awards ceremony will be held for the top individual performers and team podium finishers.