The teams of the South Central Region will attempt to earn their trip to Madison this weekend as they meet in College Station. While the region has never been known for its depth, the race for the top two is just as important as any other region. It’s implications on the at-large qualification process make it a must-see.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are the TSR#4 team in the nation after winning the SEC title with only 24 points. They also won the Pre-Nats Cardinal race over now TSR#1 Oregon and were 5th at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational falling behind Colorado, Boise State, New Mexico, and Villanova. Arkansas has yet to race in College Station this season, but after two trips to Madison, it’s clear that the Razorbacks are looking past regionals and onto the national meet (as they should be). Arkansas will contend for the NCAA title and should make short order of this regional meet.
Not only should the Razorbacks end up on the top of the team rankings, they should hold onto the top individual placements as well. The South Central sports five TSR Top 50 individuals; four of whom will be racing for Arkansas this weekend.
Leading the squad is TSR#9 Katrina Robinson who has inserted herself into the national title conversation in her freshman campaign. She finished 8th at Nuttycombe before placing 2nd in both the Pre-Nats Cardinal race and SEC Championships. She has been the first finisher for Arkansas in every race this season, which makes her the individual favorite here since her teammates are her major competition.
TSR #25 Carina Viljoen finished 4th at SEC's, 8th at Pre-Nats, and 14th at Nuttycombe. TSR #34 Lauren Gregory placed 3rd at SEC's and 10th at Pre-Nats, while not racing earlier in the season. TSR #41 Taylor Werner placed 6th at SEC's, 6th at Pre-Nats, and 20th at Nuttycombe. Of the four, Robinson will likely end up on top this weekend, but as evidenced by their results, the Razorbacks could easily shuffle up their finishing order. Sydney Brown and Maddy Reed were 9th and 10th at the SEC meet and should both challenge for top 10 regional finishes as well.
Texas slots in as the potential second favorite for a trip to Madison. Sadly for the Longhorns, their performances have not been nearly as impressive as what we have seen from Arkansas. Texas placed 5th at the BIG 12 Conference Championships and followed that up with a 4th place finish at the Arturo Barrios Invitational and a 23rd place finish at the Nuttycombe Invitational. Without many potential wins, Texas will be focused on placing 2nd this weekend in an attempt to secure a trip to Nationals.
Individually, Destiny Collins will attempt to insert herself into the top four for Texas. Collins placed a competitive 4th at the BIG 12 Championships and matched that performance at Arturo Barrios. She also placed 39th in the Nuttycombe Wisconsin race to put herself in the individual conversation. Alex Cruz and Madeline Vondra were the next two Longhorns across the line at BIG 12's in 17th and 21st. Abby Guidry ran along Cruz as the third Longhorn at Nuttycombe. She placed 144th.
The Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs will be looking to upset the Longhorns for the second automatic spot. SMU finished 4th in the American Conference after placing 7th at Arturo Barrios and 3rd at the Louisville Classic earlier in the season. The biggest strength for the Mustangs is their front-running, as they sport the fifth Top 50 runner in the region.
Hannah Miller entered the rankings at TSR#48 after 4th place finishes at her conference meet and at the Louisville Classic. She also finished 3rd at Arturo Barrios. Svenja Ojstersek has been close to her teammate all year with an 11th place finish at Louisville and a 7th place finish at Arturo Barrios. Ojstersek beat Miller at the American Conference meet, placing 2nd in the 6.2 kilometer race. Anneke Grogan is a solid third for the Mustangs, but the team falls apart at 4-5. Pulling together the back half will be important should they hope to turn an upset.
Rice could also surprise a few teams after running a number of under-the-radar meets. Rice placed a close 2nd (27 to 41) to the Longhorns in a 4k race at their home invitational. They then placed 4th at the Texas A&M Invitational and 8th at Roy Griak. Finally, they finished 3rd at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational followed by another 3rd at the Conference USA Championships.
Individually, look for Lourdes Vivas di Lorenzi, Khayla Patel, and Ryann Helmers to lead the team. Vivas di Lorenzi has been the most consistent with an 8th place finish at Conference USA's and a 7th place finish at the Santa Clara meet.
Other teams that could challenge include Texas A&M who finished 10th at the SEC Championships, but did win an early season meet at home over regional rivals Rice, TCU, and UTRGV. The regional meet is on their home course, so they could definitely fight for an upset. The Aggies top runner is Kelsie Warren who was 31st at the SEC meet.
University of Texas - Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) is an unlikely option after placing almost dead last in 2017. UTRGV was 10th at the Arturo Barrios meet before finishing 5th in the WAC. However, Mercy Chelangat is their star and she has impressed all season. She was won the Texas A&M meet, finished 10th at Arturo Barrios, and placed 4th at the WAC Championships. She will need a high finish to balance the backend scoring.
Their pack is slightly behind some of their regional rivals, but strong enough to stay in contention with Chelangat at the front. LSU finished 8th at Arturo Barrios and could also challenge. They were 11th at the SEC Championships. LSU has a nice balance of front-running and pack-running that could prove vital at regionals. Julia Palin leads the Tigers and is complemented by 800 meter runner Ersula Farrow.
TCU placed 32nd at the Nuttycombe Invitational and 8th at the BIG 12 Championships. Their top runner Evelyn Mandel was 25th at that conference meet.
Allyson Girard of Texas A&M – Corpus Christi finished 8th at the Arturo Barrios Invitational and is the Southland Conference Champion.
Rea Isel of North Texas finished 16th at the Arturo Barrios Invitational and was 7th at Conference USA's.
Before going to the predictions, 2017 3rd place team Baylor seems to have redshirted their top returning individual from last season – Lindsey Bradley. If she returns for the regional meet, she could likely step into an individual qualifying position and maybe jump Baylor into team consideration as well.
1. Katrina Robinson (Arkansas)
2. Taylor Werner (Arkansas)
3. Carina Viljoen (Arkansas)
4. Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
5. Svenja Ojstersek (SMU)
6. Sydney Brown (Arkansas)
7. Hannah Miller (SMU)
8. Destiny Collins (Texas)
9. Maddy Reed (Arkansas)
10. Mercy Chelangat (UT-Rio Grande Valley)
11. Allyson Girard (Texas A&M – Corpus Christi)
12. Alex Cruz (Texas)
13. Micah Huckabee (Arkansas)
14. Rea Isel (North Texas)
15. Lourdes Vivas di Lorenzi (Rice)
16. Kelsie Warren (Texas A&M)
17. Rachel Nichwitz (LSU)
18. Evelyn Mandel (TCU)
19. Anneke Grogan (SMU)
20. Madeline Vondra (Texas)
1. Arkansas (16)
2. Texas (108)
3. UT-Rio Grande Valley (131)
4. LSU (137)
5. SMU (142)
6. Rice 159 (Rice wins tiebreaker, 3 to 2)
7. TCU 159
8. Texas A&M (163)
Arkansas and Texas earn the two projected automatic qualifiers to NCAAs.
Arkansas gives a Kolas point to Colorado, New Mexico, Boise State, and Villanova. All of these teams are expected to qualify automatically.
Texas gives Kolas points to Northern Arizona, Colorado, Colorado St., Air Force, Southern Utah, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Michigan St., Purdue, Indiana, Iowa State (2 points), Oklahoma State (3 points), Kansas, Portland, Boise State, Oregon St., North Carolina St., Iona, Columbia, Providence, Florida, Vanderbilt, Villanova, Penn State, West Virginia, and Arkansas. The total implications of these wins cannot be described here, yet many teams will benefit from beating Texas. Oregon St., Iona, Kansas, Northern Arizona, Southern Utah, and Air Force would likely benefit most from the wins against Texas pending results in other regions.
The individual qualifiers would be Svenja Ojstersek and Hannah Miller (SMU), Mercy Chelangat (UT-Rio Grande Valley), and Allyson Girard (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) based on the predictions.
Both UT-Rio Grande Valley and LSU would be potential at-large qualifying teams based on their projected finish. Neither team has earned a potential Kolas win (a win over a potential qualifying team) and therefore would not be selected.
Should any team upset Texas for the second automatic qualifying slot, the qualifying procedure implications would be significant as every team in the South Central would provide substantial quantities of wins to other teams. The variation in the teams could significantly alter the qualifyiers, especially if an SEC team were to take 2nd and provide Kolas wins to Georgia, Florida, and Ole Miss.