By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Editor’s Note: Course Chronicles will run each Wednesday on the SEC Digital Network during the SEC Cross Country season.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – We’re officially a month away from the 2012 Southeastern Conference Cross Country Championships and the excitement is palpable all across the league.
This coming weekend, all 14 SEC schools are in action (with the exception of the Arkansas men), with seven teams at the Greater Louisville Classic on Saturday. That meet will be significant for several reasons and will help us better understand the SEC cross country postseason picture.
The Greater Louisville Classic takes place at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky., site of the 2012 NCAA Championships. It will be a good first opportunity for many of these league teams to get a feel for the course that will be used at this year’s national championships. Several SEC squads will return to that course in mid-October to participate in the NCAA Pre-National Meet.
On the women’s side of things, this weekend’s competition in Louisville will be significant because it will mark the first time this season that league favorites Arkansas, Florida and Vanderbilt will compete head-to-head in a meet. This should give us a good preview of how the women’s race at the SEC Championships may shake out, both on the team and the individual sides.
In terms of men’s favorites for the league crown, Arkansas’ men are idle this weekend, while Texas A&M will be competing at the Notre Dame Invitational on Friday. Florida’s men are competing alongside their women at the Greater Louisville Classic.
The SEC features five ranked teams in the latest USTFCCCA poll. The Texas A&M men return to the No. 14 spot nationally, which ties for the best national ranking in program history. Arkansas’ men made the biggest jump in the USTFCCCA poll this week, moving five spots and into a tie for 17th nationally. The Razorbacks had a strong performance at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational this past weekend, which I will detail later in this column. On the women’s side, none of the ranked SEC teams were in action last weekend. Vanderbilt checks in at No. 8 and Arkansas is ranked 10th. Florida is the nation’s 28th-ranked women’s team.
Remember, beginning with last weekend, the implications of these regular-season meets have become much more significant, as each team’s competitions will begin counting towards the NCAA regional selection process.
With many SEC teams competing this weekend at the site of this year’s NCAA Championships, it seems an appropriate time for a little history lesson on the event, including a number of things that will look a little different this season. Many thanks, in advance, to the USTFCCCA for much of this historical information.
The NCAA Cross Country Championships are set for Saturday, Nov. 17. For the first time since World War II, the NCAA Division I Championships will be held on a Saturday. The change is part of a new date formula that will go into effect this year. Another component of that formula moves the NCAA Regional Championships to eight days prior to the national meet and will be held on a Friday.
Among the terms of the new format is a description that mandates the national meet be held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. This year, it just so happens that Thanksgiving falls on the earliest possible date (Nov. 22), which makes the NCAA Championships, accordingly, occur on the earliest date in NCAA history. The new format is similar to one that has been used in NCAA Division II and NCAA Division III cross country for several seasons.
According to the USTFCCCA, since the first NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1938, the Division I meet had been held on the Monday prior to or immediately following Thanksgiving. There were two exceptions to that – during World War II when the meet was held on a Saturday (the earliest being Nov. 21), and in 1963 when the meet was held on a Tuesday after being delayed due to the assassination of President Kennedy.
That’s the history of the dates, here’s an history of the sites.
Louisville is a first-time host of the NCAA Cross Country Championships. The event moves to the Derby City after Terre Haute, Ind., has played host to the meet for nine of the last 10 years.
From the very first meet in 1938 until 1964, the event was contested annually at East Lansing, Mich., and was hosted by Michigan State. It then rotated among a variety of campus sites for many years until 2004 when Terre Haute, Ind., and Indiana State became a long-time host of the event.
Tennessee played host to the event in 1971, a championship won by Oregon, during the height of its distance-running dynasty. The legendary Steve Prefontaine was the NCAA individual champion that season. The Vols again played host to the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1990 and Arkansas hosted in 1994.
The event is scheduled to return to Terre Haute for the 2013 NCAA Championships.
Until this past weekend, we didn’t know much about the Arkansas men. They were the first conference team to compete this season, but hadn’t participated in a meet since Aug. 30.
After three weeks of training between competitions, the Razorbacks were impressive at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational this past weekend.
Arkansas finished second at the meet behind No. 4 Oklahoma and placed three runners among the race’s individual top-five. The Razorbacks finished ahead of a couple of ranked teams (using yesterday’s latest rankings), including No. 26 Michigan and No. 27 Virginia and rose to a season-high No. 17 in the national poll.
What is proving to be most impressive about Arkansas through two meets is the Razorbacks’ considerable depth. Arkansas, the defending SEC team champion, returns Eric Fernandez, last year’s SEC individual champion and an NCAA individual participant in 2011.
While Fernandez has finished near the front of the field in both of Arkansas’ two meets this season, he hasn’t been the winner. That’s not to say he hasn’t performed well – he’s currently holds the second-best 8K time in the SEC this season and has finished in the top-five in each of his two competitions. My point is, he’s not the only elite runner on this Razorback team and not Arkansas’ only potential opportunity to win the individual title at the league championships.
In the season-opener in which Arkansas placed six runners in the top seven, the Razorbacks were led by Solomon Haile, who captured the individual title in his first cross country race since the 2010 season. He crossed the finish line in a 6.6K time of 19:51.4 and earned SEC Co-Runner of the Week honors. This past week, junior Kemoy Campbell – a transfer from South Plains College who won the individual title at the 2011 NJCAA Cross Country Championships – was the meet winner in a time of 24:04.70, which currently ranks as the best 8K time in the SEC this season. That performance earned him SEC Runner of the Week accolades.
In essence, Arkansas’ lineup this season features a couple of “newcomers” who are anything but new. They are veteran runners who, at least to this point, have positioned themselves to contend for the league’s individual crown. Having these three top-caliber runners and such depth would seem to position the Razorbacks well in their quest to repeat as league champions.
• Laura Carleton, an LSU senior, was named the SEC Women’s Runner of the Week after winning the LSU Invitational. Operating under the radar, Carleton has, to this point, turned in a very fine season. She currently holds the top 6K time in the SEC so far this season at 20:34.70 and has posted a pair of top-10 finishes in her last two outings. Impressively, she placed fifth a few weeks ago at the highly competitive Commodore Classic, finishing ahead of a number of SEC foes.
• The Kentucky women’s distance program, under the direction of first-year coach Hakon DeVries, is currently receiving votes in the latest USTFCCCA poll. It’s been a while for the Wildcats, but don’t forget they are a program with a very rich tradition. Don Weber, who recently retired after three decades as the head coach at Kentucky, had his teams consistently positioned among the top programs in the country during that span. The Wildcats, who captured the NCAA Women’s Cross Country Championship in 1988, are the only SEC program to win a national title in the sport of women’s cross country. Cally Macumber claimed the individual title at the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational this past weekend.
• A schedule change for the Florida men and women announced this week. The Gators were originally slated to be off from competition this week and would then compete at the Seminole Invitational on Oct. 5. Instead, Florida will be in action this weekend at the St. Leo Invitational and idle next weekend.
• For the third consecutive year, Tennessee will participate in the Brooks Paul Short Run (this Friday) at Bethlehem, Pa. It is a course that head coach J.J. Clark knows well and finds to be one that provides good preparation for the Volunteers. Clark is a 1986 graduate of Villanova and competed on that course as an athlete himself. In fact, the course served as the site of the 1983 NCAA Cross Country Championships, in which Clark competed.
Until next time.