The No. 9 Razorbacks return to the Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida, for the NCAA Championship race, which will air live on ESPNU this Saturday starting at 9 a.m. (CT). The men’s 10,000m event will start at 10:10 a.m. (CT).
This marks the 51st time for an Arkansas team to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championships, and 10th consecutive year. Finishing fourth last March was the 21st time the Razorbacks achieved a top four finish. Arkansas has won a leading 11 championship team titles along with 37 top 10 finishes.
“I’m one of those coaches that believes, on a given day, Arkansas can compete for a championship,” said Razorback men’s head coach Chris Bucknam. “It’s going to be a heck of race. There are legitimately seven to eight schools on the men’s side that could win the meet. Nobody is running for second place. I believe it’s the deepest it has been for quite a while.”
Northern Arizona, the defending national champion, ranks No. 1 heading into the championship meet with seven first-place votes. They are followed by BYU (2), the 2019 champion, Oklahoma State (1) and Notre Dame (1).
Other squads among the national top 10 include Colorado, Iowa State, Stanford, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Tulsa.
“We’re excited to compete against the best in the country, understanding that it’s about that last 5k,” noted Bucknam. “Our guys are ready to compete.”
During the past two meets, the SEC Championships and the South Central Region, the Razorbacks spread among its top five has been 21.4 seconds over an 8k course at SEC and 35.4 seconds over the 10k distance at region.
“It will be instrumental if we can have that kind of compression and a top 10 finish for one of our guys,” stated Bucknam. “That’s going to be the key for us. We just have to put our best races of the season together among the seven we put on the line.”
Last March, when Arkansas placed fourth to earn a trophy and a position on the podium, the Razorback top five finishers had a 53.5 second spread over a very challenging Oklahoma State course and were racing two days after the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Two of the three All-America performers from last March return in Amon Kemboi and Gilbert Boit.
Kemboi claimed his fourth cross country All-America, his first with Arkansas after three while at Campbell, in placing 11th on the Oklahoma State course. This season Kemboi was the SEC silver medalist and finished fifth in the South Central Region.
Boit placed 40th in the March NCAA race to earn his first cross country All-America. This season, Boit and Kemboi clocked the same time in a 1-2 finish at the Battle in Beantown. In the Pre-National meet, they placed 10th and 16th with Kemboi holding the advantage.
Razorbacks returning who also raced last March include Jacob McLeod (57th), Emmanuel Cheboson (63rd) and Ryan Murphy (207th). They will be joined by Andrew Kibet and Myles Richter. Kibet was the 2018 NJCAA national champion, while Richter (132nd) ran in the 2019 NCAA Championships.
This season, Richter was the fifth Razorback finisher during the Pre-National meet and was third among the team in placing 10th at the SEC Championships, then fifth in the South Central Region when he finished 10th overall.
“Our program is spread across a wide area to also compete for indoor and outdoor championships,” said Bucknam. “It is significant to be able to podium in consecutive championships. We’ve got a good group and hopefully they can repeat a podium finish or compete for a title.
“I look at it as you compete to win. We’ll see what happens and where the cards fall after that. We’ve had good consistency from last year to this year through indoor and outdoor track with a lot of successes.”