By Shawn Price
BATON ROUGE, La. – Arkansas produced a perfect score of 15 points to open the 2020 cross country season with a team title in the SEC Preview meet hosted by LSU as freshman Taylor Ewert paced the Razorbacks with a victory in her collegiate debut.
“It couldn’t have gone better to win like we did,” stated Arkansas head coach Lance Harter. “I was a bit surprised that some of our new faces and our freshmen rose to the challenge so successfully.
“I credit, obviously, their talent. Also, the legacy that has been established over the years becomes self-perpetuating. No one wants to let that success get away.”
The perfect score of 15 points had the Razorbacks topping a field which included Mississippi (46), LSU (96), Mississippi State (103) and Texas A&M (126).
Ewert covered the 5,000m course in 16 minutes, 53.7 seconds amid wet conditions while senior teammate Abby Gray followed as runner-up in 16:55.2 The rest of Arkansas’ top five, finishing 3-4-5, included Logan Morris (17:02.8), Lauren Gregory (17:07.6) and another freshman in Corie Smith (17:13.3).
“Taylor is an immense talent and we kind of knew through workouts she was going to be very special,” Harter noted. “Corie has been laying back a little bit, I think she was trying to figure out as a typical freshman of where she stands and how does all this work. I was pleased with how she rose to the challenge of the race. She didn’t act like a freshman.”
The performance by Ewert is a personal best over 5,000m in cross country, and Gray also improved upon her previous best of 17:06.2 over 5k.
“Definitely was tough going into the race the with kind of unusual conditions,” said Ewert, who clocked a best of 16:57.9 in high school. “We were expecting rain and we also haven’t raced in a while. For my first collegiate race I went into it with a positive mindset and knew I needed to perform not only as an individual but also for my team.
After Gray led the field through the first 1k in 3:15.4, Ewert assumed the lead at 2k in 6:36.7 and held that position the remainder of the race with splits of 10:02.7 at 3k and 13:33.1 at 4k. She covered the final 1k in 3:20.7 with Gray posting a 3:21.2 while Morris clocked 3:18.9.
“We came away with that perfect score, so it’s a great start to a short season,” stated Ewert. “What else could we ask for. It definitely feels good to get my first collegiate race under my belt, also win the race and have the team perform really well too. It was a long overdue PR for me. I’m happy with the time and hoping I can work from there and improve throughout the season.”
Improvements on previous best 5k times were also established by other Razorbacks. Isabel Van Camp (17:31.7) led the next group of Arkansas runners in placing ninth, and was followed by Kennedy Thomson (17:47.0), Julia Paternain (17:49.7), Meghan Underwood (17:57.2) and Quinn Owen (18:08.1) as they finished in places 13-15-17-21.
“Some of our new faces among the transfers are still trying to get a foothold on what’s going on and they’re training better than they have ever trained before,” said Harter. “So, I think we ran really well but we have a lot of upside to be gained. These kids are going to continue to get a lot better.”
Also competing for the Razorbacks in the opening meet of the season were Josie Carson (32, 18:45.8), Lainey Quandt (33, 18:53.7), Alex Ritchey (38, 19:09.6) and Tori Willis (46, 19:55.2).