COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M serves as host of the NCAA South Central Region meet for the second consecutive year and third time over the past four seasons on the Dale Watts cross country course this Friday, with the women’s 6,000m race at 9:15 a.m. followed by the men’s 10,000m race at 10:15 a.m.
At stake are automatic berths to the NCAA Championship field as the top two teams in each race advance along with the top four individuals not associated with a qualifying team. Each school in the meet can only compete with seven runners as the top five finishers from a school compile their team score.
The Arkansas women, ranked No. 5 nationally following an SEC title, head into the South Central meet having won the past seven region team titles. During that run of victories by the Razorbacks, Texas has finished runner-up four times with Baylor runner-up twice.
Arkansas’s men, who rank 19th nationally and were runner-up in the recent SEC Championships, seek a sixth consecutive region title. Texas, third in the Big 12, have been runner-up in the region the past five years.
“On the men’s side it’s Arkansas and Texas, then us,” noted Texas A&M assistant coach Wendel McRaven. “On the women’s side it’s pretty similar with Arkansas and Texas, then maybe Rice and us. If we run well we should be in that mix.”
Recent regional rankings for the South Central include Arkansas, Texas, UT Rio Grande Valley, Texas A&M and UT Arlington among the top five men’s teams while the women’s top five include Arkansas, Texas, SMU, Rice and Texas A&M.
The Texas A&M men have finished third in the region meet twice in the past three seasons, including last year when Jon Bishop and Christian Farris qualified as individuals for the national meet. The Aggie women finished sixth last season.
“We tend to run pretty well at the regional meet, especially when it’s at home,” stated McRaven. “Last year our men were a close third to Texas, which was both satisfying, since we ran really well, and disappointing, because we didn’t get second place.
“On the women’s side we finished sixth, which was our best race of the year, and we’re better this year. It’s a matter of lining up and taking care of business.”
Top returning individuals within the South Central region include Tulane’s Emmanuel Rotich, a two-time defending men’s champion along with Alex Rogers of Texas, who placed third last year, Texas A&M’s Bishop, who finished fourth, and Baylor’s Devin Meyer, who was ninth. Razorback Andrew Rotich claimed runner-up honors in 2016 and placed 25th last season.
Carina Viljoen of Arkansas is the top returner on the women’s side, having finished as the runner-up in 2017. The field also includes five of the 10 finishers from last season along with five runners who placed among the top 10 in 2016.
Baylor’s tandem of Anna West and Lindsey Bradley were third and fourth last year while Bradley placed third in 2016 with West ninth. SMU’s Hannah Miller finished seventh last season after being fourth in 2016.
Other contenders for top positions in the South Central race include Gilbert Boit of Arkansas, the SEC men’s winner, and Razorback freshman Katrina Robinson, runner-up in the SEC women’s race.
In addition to Bishop, Jacob Perry could contend for individual qualification to the national meet as the men move up in distance to 10,000m from 8,000m.
“It’s hard to predict with Jon, since he has missed the last two meets with a staph infection,” said McRaven. “So, now he’s back training and it’ll be a challenge for him to see where he’s at, probably a bit more mentally than physically.
“Jacob finished in the top 20 of the SEC Championships, and Jon was 23rd in the conference meet last year and then placed fourth in the region meet. Jacob, in the back of his mind, knows that he’s seen better competition in the SEC meet than he will see in the regional meet. Going to the 10k distance is a plus for Jacob, since his strength is going a longer distance.”
On the women’s side Kelsie Warren and Ashley Driscoll have each paced the team this season as they lead a crew of younger runners.
“Kelsie needs to keep progressing,” noted McRaven. “She had some physical problems earlier in the season. While she was happy with parts of her race in the SEC meet, she knows she can race better than that.”
In addition to Warren and Driscoll, the Aggie women’s initial entrants include Lauryn Barrientos, Rachel Bernardo, Julia Black, Valarie Bradley, Lizette Chapa, Carrie Fish, Nikki Keys, and Abbey Santoro.
Joining Bishop and Perry among the men’s initial entrants are Eli Canal, Taylor Clayton, Gavin Hoffpauir, Noah Jacobs, Wes McPhail, Brandt Preston, Zephyr Seagraves and Harrison Tillman.
Each team will select a set of seven runners per gender to compete in the South Central region meet during a technical meeting on Thursday evening.