No. 15 Hogs poised for final postseason challenge

PHOTO BY RAZORBACK SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS

FAYETTEVILLE — Having emerged unscathed through conference and regional championships battles, 15th-ranked Arkansas faces its final postseason challenge this weekend, taking on the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky. Saturday, Nov. 18.

The Hogs will be on the hunt for their first podium finish since 2005, which saw them finish as the team runner-ups with a score 105 points to Wisconsin.

“I’m really, really confident with the fitness levels of our guys,” head coach Chris Bucknam said. “I feel like the work that we put in is going to benefit us this Saturday.”

31 Teams Competing at the NCAA Championships:
Automatic Qualifiers: No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 2 BYU, No. 3, Syracuse, No. 4 Portland, No. 7 Furman, No. 9 Virginia Tech, No. 10 Michigan, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Washington, No. 13 Iowa State, No. 15 Arkansas, No. 18 Oklahoma State, No. 20 Iona, No. 21 Texas, No. 22 Middle Tennessee, No. 25 Ole Miss, T-No. 28 Princeton and Navy.

At Large Qualifiers: No. 5 Colorado, No. 6 Stanford, No. 8 Colorado State, No. 14 Oregon, No. 16 UCLA, No. 17 Air Force, No. 19 Southern Utah, No. 23 Boise State, No. 24 Alabama, No. 26 Utah State, No. 27 Washington State, T-No. 28 NC State and T-No. 28 Virginia. (SEC teams in bold)

“Northern Arizona are the defending champions and BYU looks incredibly strong, but anything can happen,” Bucknam said. “There are a lot of good teams out there so it’s going to be a battle.”

RELATED:   Razorbacks collect three titles at Arkansas Invitational

Senior Leaders
Bucknam returns three All-Americans to the national meet in Jack Bruce, Austen Dalquist (All-American on the track) and Alex George. A 2015 transfer from University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Bruce earned his first All-America recognition that season, placing 23rd at the NCAA Championships as the Hogs’ No. 1 runner. He proved his worth for Arkansas a second time, at the 2016 NCAA bout, placing 19th in a competition pool which featured 251 runners.

“It’s pretty crazy that my cross country career is going to come to a close at the same place I properly established myself as a runner,” Bruce said. “I think we’re a lot more mature and wiser as a unit, certainly more established than we were two years ago. I’d like to etch my own piece of history in our program and live up to the standards left by our alumni. That said, we’re going in with the mindset of bringing home our first cross country national title since 2000.”

Last year George paced the Razorbacks at the national meet finishing 15th off a 30 minute, 10.10 second performance in frigid conditions at the LaVern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Indiana. George heads into the 2017 installment of the NCAA meet with an improved 10K personal best of 29:45.40, which he secured at the Chile Pepper Festival this past September.

RELATED:   No. 3-ranked Arkansas ready for home opener

“Being a leader is something I never thought I would be when I started here my freshman year,” George said. “I’ve been trying to teach the younger kids about the mistakes I’ve made throughout the my time here and how they can avoid it. I believe the plan for nationals is to get out strong and run near the front. I’ll probably key off of Jack and do what we did last year. It’s nice having a teammate to run up front with and to keep you grounded to a smart race plan.”

Sixth, Fifth…
The Razorbacks have been steadily progressing through each passing year, having finished sixth at NCAAs in 2015 and fifth in 2016. With his senior trio in tow plus exceptional talent in Cameron Griffith, Kyle Levermore, Ethan Moehn, Andrew Ronoh and Matt Young, Bucknam’s squad is primed to make waves at E.P. Tom Sawyer Park and ready to be thrust back into the national spotlight.

Nine Championships, 12 All-America Honors
Since taking over as the head coach of the Razorbacks in 2008, Bucknam has coached at least one Hog to All-America status in each season. In 2010, Dorian Ulrey became Bucknam’s first two-time cross country All-American. Ulrey was followed by Stanley Kebenei, who attained that status in 2014 and by current Hog Jack Bruce who attained that status in 2016. Bruce has the potential to become Bucknam’s first three-time All-American.

RELATED:   No. 3-ranked Arkansas ready for home opener

Arkansas Cross Country at the NCAA Championships
• 100 All-American selections
• 46 NCAA Championships appearances (first 1957, 13th place)
• 20 NCAA podium finishes (top-four)
• 11 NCAA titles
• 3 NCAA individual titles (Joe Falcon, 1987 and Godfrey Siamusiye, 1995 and 1996)
– Most Recent: 1996, Godfrey Siamusiye
• Best Finish 31, (1-2-4-8-16), 1993
• Largest Margin of Victory, (127 points), 1999 | 1. Arkansas, 58, 2. Wisconsin, 185

Meet Info
The 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships will begin at 9:45 a.m. CT with the women’s 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.

Live results will be available for the meet through the NCAA. Additional information regarding the meet can be found at USTFCCCA’s National Championships Central

2017 Cross Country Schedule
Fri, Sept. 1 – Cowboy Preview (Stillwater, Okla.) 1st of 4
Fri, Sept. 15 – Iona College Meet of Champions (New York, N.Y.) 2nd of 11
Sat, Sept. 30 – Chile Pepper Festival (Agri Park) 1st of 40
Sat, Oct. 14 – Pre-Nationals (Louisville, Ky.) 9th of 40
Fri, Oct. 27 – SEC Championship (Athens, Ga.) 1st of 13
Fri, Nov. 10 – NCAA South Central Regional (College Station, Texas) 1st of 23
Sat, Nov. 18 – NCAA Championship (Louisville, Ky.)

*italicized meet denotes completion.