UA cross country ready for nationals

Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam watches Saturday, April 22, 2017, during the John McDonnell Invitational at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A month after the University of Arkansas men's and women's cross country teams finished first and second at the Pre-Nationals meet in Earlysville, Va., both teams will be back at the Panorama Farms course to compete in the NCAA Championships today.

The Arkansas men, making their 53rd appearance at the national meet, are ranked No. 7. The UA women, in their 36th appearance, are ranked No. 12.

The women's 6,000 meters race will start at 9:20 a.m. Central time followed by the men's 10,000 meters race at 10:10 a.m.

ESPNU will televise both races live with an 8:30 a.m. start time for coverage

Arkansas' men, ranked No. 21 at the time, won the Pre-Nationals meet on Oct. 14 with 35 points and finished ahead of No. 17 Tennessee and No. 10 Virginia.

Arkansas sophomore Ben Shearer won the 8,000 meters race. The Razorbacks took five of the top 20 places with Kirami Yego third, Patrick Kiprop fifth, Jacob McLeod sixth and Myles Richter 20th.

"We've already been out there and done a really good job on that course," Shearer said. "That familiarity helps a lot going into the national meet."

Razorbacks men's Coach Chris Bucknam said it's always a plus to have a strong showing during the season on the course that will host the NCAA Championships.

"The kids handled it really well," Bucknam said. "There will be a lot more bodies out there [today] than there were, maybe 80 to 100 more.

"So it'll be a little more crowded. But I think we have a good plan on what we're going to do. We're just going to get our heads right and get after it."

Arkansas was ranked No. 20 in the preseason coaches' poll.

"We were a team that was not talked about when the season started," Bucknam said. "Look at how far we've come to being ranked No. 7.

"You don't get trophies and rings for polls, but it does show the progress we've made."

Northern Arizona, ranked No. 1, is going for its fourth consecutive national title and has won six of the previous seven years.

Northern Arizona and Oklahoma State tied for first with 83 points each at last year's meet, but Northern Arizona won a tiebreaker to claim the team championship.

Oklahoma State is ranked No. 2 with BYU No. 3, North Carolina No 4 and Texas and Wisconsin tied at No. 5.

"It's always about having everybody have their best race at the national championship," said Bucknam, who led the Razorbacks to fourth-place finishes in 2020 and 2021. "If we can do that, seventh place in the poll will be in the distant past.

"We really have that kind of potential [to compete for the title]. I feel good about where we're at, because of how deep we are and how well these guys have put it together.

"We feel we've got a great shot at it."

BYU's women's team, ranked No. 9 at the time, won the Pre-Nationals title with 32 points.

Arkansas, led by a third-place finish from freshman Paityn Noe and ranked No. 19, was second with 90 points and beat No. 7 Virginia and No. 17 Oregon.

Sophomores Sydney Thorvaldson and Mia Cochran finished sixth and 15th for the Razorbacks.

"I think that meet was where our team rose to that next level and stepped up and surprised some people across the country being second and knocking off a few ranked teams," said Arkansas women's assistant Megan Elliott, who coaches the distance runners. "We've got good energy on that course, and we're hoping to take that back with us [for today's race]."

Arkansas State freshman Rahel Broemmel will race as an individual.

Northern Arizona also is ranked No. 1 in the women's poll followed by No. 2 North Carolina State, No. 3 BYU, No. 4 Oklahoma State and No. 5 Stanford.

"We're going to focus on our execution," Elliott said. "Everybody's going to do their job, and we'll see where we stack up against those big teams.

"They may be ranked in front of us, but they still have to get out there and get the job done. We're going to make them run honest and see where we stack up against them."