Men's preview written by Ben Weisel
Women's preview written by Maura Beattie
Predictions are of the writer's opinion and may not match our site's official Kolas projections
The South Central region has never been one of the strongest regions in the country, but powerhouses like Texas and Arkansas give the region adequate representation at NCAA's.
This year, both programs have struggled. Arkansas is rebuilding while redshirting their top runner Gilbert Boit while Texas has struggled to compete with some of the top teams in the country.
Fortunately for both teams, and unfortunately for fans hoping for drama, there haven’t been any teams who have stepped up to challenge these two prestigious programs. In the end, both the Razorbacks and Longhorns should advance to NCAA's, but it will be interesting to see if any team is able to at least challenge them more than usual. The race for 3rd might be the most intriguing battle.
Despite the predictability, let’s start with the defending South Central region champions, the Arkansas Razorbacks. While this season has been a developmental season for Coach Bucknam’s squad, they did just earn a 3rd place finish at SEC's and will look to punch their ticket to NCAA's with a solid run on Friday.
Matt Young, who just finished 7th at SEC's, has been a great low-stick for this young and inexperienced team. Underclassmen Myles Richter and Ryan Murphy had solid SEC performances, but the Razorbacks have struggled to match their usual scoring potency. Although they were beaten by Alabama, the men Fayetteville did easily beat Texas A&M who will be one of their top challengers.
The Razorbacks 13th place finish at Pre-Nationals shows us that while they may not be as good as they were last year, they are still one of the strongest teams in the region. However, they can’t get too confident because they don’t have enough top low-sticks to balance out any poor performances from the backend of their lineup. Arkansas’ margin of error is smaller than normal, but if they run a solid race on their home course, then they should be able to earn their place to NCAA's without any big issues.
Lastly, like I mentioned in the SEC preview, this is a good chance for some of the younger Arkansas runners to get valuable postseason experience that will help the in the years to come.
Texas has often been on the losing end of its races against Arkansas, but this year, it is hard to see them taking the backseat. Not that it matters too much to either of these teams as both simply want to qualify for NCAA's.
The Longhorns easily beat the Razorbacks at the Chili Pepper Cross Country Festival, but the scores were close through four runners. The men of Texas did not race again until the BIG 12 Championships where they earned a 3rd place finish. Sam Worley again led the team in that race with a 4th place finish while John Rice was a solid #2 runner, finishing 7th overall. The Longhorns packed up well with their 4-5-6-7 runners all finishing within 25 seconds of one another.
If Texas’ backend can run well, then the Longhorns will punch their ticket to NCAA's with no problems. Worley, Rice, and Haftu Knight are better than anyone else’s front three in the region. While the Longhorns haven’t been overly impressive this year, they should have enough to take home the South Central crown.
The two teams competing for the 3rd place spot are Lamar and Texas A&M. Both teams will struggle to compete with Arkansas and Texas, but if either team runs exceptionally well and one of the top teams has an off day, then perhaps we might see an upset. Either way, both teams will be looking to put themselves in good position by attempting to secure bronze.
Let’s look first at the Aggies who were 5th at SEC's. The team has been led by sophomore Eric Casarez for most of the season, but at SEC's, Texas A&M had a top three that packed up and finished 14-15-16. Jon Bishop and Zephyr Seagraves both stepped in a big way to run with Casarez, and consequently, the Aggies put themselves in a great position through three runners. In fact, through three scorers, Texas A&M was ahead of Arkansas.
The problem was their bottom two scorers who finished in 47th and 55th, respectively. For the Aggies to have success on Friday, they will need to shorten up their spread significantly. If their top three can beat Arkansas’ top three again, then they could very well pull off the upset in a field that is not strong enough to push the Aggies #4 and #5 men as far back.
Lamar, on the other hand, was beaten handily by Arkansas earlier in the season at the Chili Pepper Cross Country Festival. Jordan Rowe was a great low-stick, but the rest of the roster was unable to compete with the Razorbacks. At the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational, Rowe once again led the way, and the Cardinals had a very strong top four. The issue was that their #5 man was over 50 places behind their #4 runner. In their next race against a weak field at the Southland Conference Championships, Lamar won easily, and their top six spread was only 48 seconds.
It seems like this team has improved after each meet, but they have yet to be tested against top competition since Chili Pepper. They will certainly be challenged this weekend. Rowe will provide the Cardinals with a low-stick, but the key, like it was for Texas A&M, will be how small they can keep their time spread. The backend of their lineup has been running better, but they need to reach an even higher level to be able to take down the Aggies and give themselves a chance against Texas and Arkansas.
The individual race will be fascinating because Arkansas and Texas’ men will likely be not running full out (well, maybe). Still, their top guys should lead the race. The individual title will likely come down between Matt Young, Sam Worley, John Rice, Abraham Chirchir of UT-Rio Grande Valley, and Jordan Rowe. The race may go out slow, so it may turn into a kicker’s race which will allow Texas A&M and Lamar runners to hang around longer than expected.
1. Texas - Team Automatic
2. Arkansas - Team Automatic
4. Texas A&M
6. Arkansas State
10. UT-Rio Grande Valley
1. Matt Young (Arkansas)
2. Sam Worley (Texas)
3. Abraham Chirchir (UT-Rio Grande Valley) - Individual Qualifier
4. John Rice (Texas)
5. Jordan Rowe (Lamar) - Individual Qualifier
6. Eric Casarez (Texas A&M) - Individual Qualifier
7. Justin Domangue (UT-Arlington) - Individual Qualifier
8. Florian Lussy (North Texas)
9. Hociel Landa (Rice)
10. Myles Richter (Arkansas)
11. Haftu Knight (Texas)
12. John Bishop (Texas A&M)
13. Kevin Kipkosgei (Abilene Christian)
14. Zephyr Seagraves (Texas A&M)
15. Eric Coston (LSU)
16. Ryan Murphy (Arkansas)
17. Davis Bove (LSU)
18. Jack Gooch (Lamar)
19. Liam Burthem (Lamar)
20. Preston Cates (Arkansas)
The South Central Regiona Championships, which will be hosted in Fayetteville, Arkansas, will be a cake-walk for the Razorbacks. Each time the Razorbacks compete, they keep getting better and right now, they are simply too strong to beat.
Many thought that Katrina Robinson would be leading their team this fall, but she is redshirting after coming off of an injury that kept her out of indoor and outdoor track. However, even without Robinson on the course, Arkansas has been on fire. Taylor Werner had stellar indoor and outdoor track seasons and has since carried that momentum over to the cross country course. Werner has finished in the top three on four different occasions this fall and is a potential top three for NCAA's.
Behind Werner, the Razorbacks are enjoying the addition of Katie Izzo to the program after she transferred from Cal Poly. Izzo has had a breakout season under Coach Lance Harter and has finished in the top five each meet. Recently at SEC’s, Izzo beat Werner by four seconds.
Devin Clark and Carina Viljoen have greatly improved this season and are solid #3 and #4 runners for Arkansas. Both athletes have been in the top 10 and have taken down big names in each meet, further solidifying themselves as two of the nation’s best runners.
Lauren Gregory is getting back into top form as the season progresses into the regional and national meets. Despite coming back from an injury, she has continued to show signs of her old self after finishing 38th at Nuttycombe and 9th at SEC’s. She has the ability to finish alongside Clark and Viljoen, Gregory just needs to believe it.
Arkansas’ top five is set, however, they need to get to their #6 and #7 runners to finish as close as possible to the main pack to ensure that if someone has an off day, some of the scoring slack is picked up.
Then we have the Texas women who should take the second automatic qualifying spot. The Longhorns were only two points shy of a BIG 12 team title the other week, but they were also only two points ahead of 3rd place.
The nice thing for Texas come Friday is that both of those teams, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, are competing someplace else. A runner-up finish at BIG 12’s has to give Texas confidence moving forward. Even though they will not be able to compete with the women of Arkansas, the Longhorns will still put up a fight.
Texas has seen Destiny Collins and Kathryn Gillespie trade places when it comes to leading the team this fall. Collins, a senior, has improved each year at the South Central Regional Championships, finishing 22nd (2016), 10th (2017), and 7th (2018). How low can she go this year?
So far this fall, Collins has finished 27th in a loaded Bill Dellinger field, 7th against the Razorback crew at Chile Pepper, and 6th at BIG 12’s. If she puts together a solid race and runs within herself, a solid finish is in store for Collins.
Gillespie is another runner who will support Texas' hopes of qualifying for NCAA's. Gillespie, a graduate transfer from Harvard, has placed either a few spots behind, or a few spots ahead, of Collins this season.
At their conference meet, Collins and Gillespie were joined by Claudine Blancaflor, a junior who has seen notable improvements since last fall. Blancaflor was the team’s #4 at Chile Pepper, but catapulted up to the #2 spot in their lineup for BIG 12’s. Her finish helped the Longhorns nearly take down Oklahoma State.
Beth Ramos is another Longhorn to watch for this weekend as the redshirt freshman has gained experience at the D1 level and is ready to help her team qualify for NCAA's. Ramos placed a solid 15th at BIG 12’s, only 25 seconds behind her teammates.
Although they are not guaranteed a 2nd place finish before the race is even run, Texas should be runner-up to Arkansas on Friday. They are simply stronger than all but one team toeing the line.
Aside from Arkansas and Texas, there will be other teams heading to the South Central region that will try and battle for a top five finish. The teams mentioned below also bring a few individuals who will contest for one of four individual qualifying spots.
Rice recently finished 4th at the Conference USA XC Championships and are led by freshman Grace Forbes. The Owls lost to Baylor and Arkansas State at the Chile Pepper Festival, but since then they have gotten better with Forbes in the lineup. Forbes has the ability to qualify for Nationals as an individual if she doesn't let her lack of postseason experience hinder her performance.
Texas A&M could be a team to keep an eye on for a top five finish. Although the team finished 9th at SEC's, Kelsie Warren and Ashley Driscoll placed 11th and 12th, respectively. At SEC’s, the team had a 1:13 spread among their top five. If the women decrease this time spread, they could compete for a top four finish. Even without a top two team finish, Warren and Driscoll are two individuals capable of qualifying for Nationals.
The ladies of Stephen F. Austin have looked good this season and were runners-up at the Southland Conference XC Championship almost two weeks ago. There was a 27 second spread between their top five at their conference meet. Kelsey Ramirez is a runner to watch as she is looking for an individual qualification after she finished 2nd at the Southland Conference XC Championship. Ramirez finished 27th at last year's regional meet, but looks to be in better overall fitness this fall.
Arkansas State has been on the rise over the last few weeks. The Red Wolves took the Sunbelt Conference XC team title by placing all five runners within the top 20. Pauline Meyer was 2nd overall and Elizabeth Gillette was close behind in 6th. If these two can stick close together and have runners 2-3-4-5 close their gap, a top five finish could be possible for Arkansas State.
1. Arkansas - Team Automatic
2. Texas - Team Automatic
4. Texas A&M
5. Stephen F. Austin
6. Arkansas State
7. Central Arkansas
10. Abilene Christian
1. Taylor Werner (Arkansas)
2. Katie Izzo (Arkansas)
3. Devin Clark (Arkansas)
4. Carina Viljoen (Arkansas)
5. Kathryn Gillespie (Texas)
6. Grace Forbes (Rice) - Individual Qualifier
7. Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
8. Destiny Collins (Texas)
9. Kelsie Warren (Texas A&M) - Individual Qualifier
10. Pauline Meyer (Arkansas State) - Individual Qualifier
11. Ashley Driscoll (Texas A&M) - Individual Qualifier