Wednesday, August 28, 2013

NCAA XC Top 31 Countdown: Men's #5- Arkansas

Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.

Head Coach: Chris Bucknam (6th Season)
2012 National Finish- 10th

Key Returners from 2012
  • Solomon Haile (Sr., 8:01 Open 3k, 13:58 5k, 28:43 10k)
  • Kemoy Campbell (Sr., 3:41 1500m, 7:46 Open 3k, 13:32 5k)
  • Stanley Kebenei (Jr., 3:47 1500m, 7:58 Open 3k, 13:42 5k, 8:24 3k Steeple)
  • David Flynn (Sr., 8:13 Open 3k, 14:17 5k, 8:49 3k Steeple)
  • Patrick Rono (Sr., 1:46 800m, 3:46 1500m, 4:01 Mile)
  • Cale Wallace (So., 4:06 Mile, 8:21 Open 3k)
Impact Recruits/Transfers
  • Gabe Gonzales (Jr., 35th Big 12 XC '12, 24th MW Regional XC '12)

Season Preview

Arkansas last season was led by the three headed monster of Kemoy Campbell, Solomon Haile, and Eric Fernandez. With those boys up front, the Hogs were a dominant force through the SECs and did well enough at Regionals to make a good showing at NCAAs. Although Fernandez is graduated and gone, Arkansas will be fine and can substitute all-NCAA 3k Steepler Stanley Kebenei for Fernandez. No knock on Fernandez, he was a stud, but Kebenei could be considered an upgrade with his credentials. 

Chris Bucknam  has assembled one of the best teams, if not his best, since he has been at the helm in Fayetteville. With some solid pack runners and three beasts leading the way, Arkansas is going to be very good this year, and here is how. 

Kemoy Campbell burst onto the scene last year coming off a JUCO XC National Championship the year before. The man from Jamaica is an absolute beast and has range that most cross country guys could only dream of. His 17th place finish at NCAAs in 2012 was proven that it was no fluke as he followed that up with a 2nd place finish indoors in the 3k and 5th place finish this past spring outdoors in Eugene for 5k. Campbell, with one year of Division 1 running under his belt, is going to be a dominant force in the NCAA, and would not surprise anyone if he finished in the top-10 individually. 

What is scary for the rest of the country is that Campbell is so good, and he might not even be their no. 1 runner at times during the season. Solomon Haile is another very good asset in the Razorback stable of studs. Haile was very good early in his career at Arkansas, kind of plateaued a bit and was hurt, and came back to life this past season. In cross he was 47th at NCAAs, and ran 28:56 outdoors in the 10k at Stanford this past spring. 

Haile has ability to be great, and if he can carry the momentum he has gained from a great xc season last year and solid track, he should improve upon his 47th finish last year to an All-American performance in Terre Haute in November. 

If these two were not enough to prove this team's quality, throwing Stanley Kebenei in the mix will definitely do it. Now when we mentioned that Campbell might not be the no. 1 runner for the parts of the season, it did seem like we alluded to Haile being the guy to push Campbell out of that spot, but in reality, Kebenei is just as capable as Campbell. Granted Campbell's PRs are better on the track, and Kebenei is not nearly as proven a cross guy as Campbell, but with the credentials Kebenei has you cannot believe he won't be able to roll up front with Kemoy all season long. 

Kebenei is a monster talent that has had all summer to train and put in a very good base with two All-American athletes. His 8:24 Steeple PR is World-Class and has the range needed to move up to 8k and 10k. Kebenei is good enough to feel secure saying he will be All-American, barring injury or the worst day of his life (which do happen). 

With those three pieces in place, Arkansas is set for three of the best low-sticks in the country. Now all the Hogs need are a no. 4 and no. 5 runner. Some good options can come from Cale Wallace who was the SEC Freshman of the year in cross country for 2012; Patrick Rono, one of the more versatile 800m/1500m runners in the NCAA who should at least be a no. 5 for Arkansas off of talent alone; and David Flynn, a good steepler. 

If neither of the above mentioned harriers cannot get it done, Arkansas did get a quality transfer from Kansas in Gabe Gonzales. An above average cross guy for Kansas, Gonzales has quite a bit of upside and having the training partners he now has in Fayetteville, he could get a lot better real fast. Gonzales had good showings at Big 12s and their Regional and has the ability to be a good no. 5 if needed. 

Arkansas could be looking at a kind of 7-8-9 finish similarly to Oklahoma State in 2010. The jury is still out if the Hogs have a good enough 4-5 to be podium, but if they can find them out of Flynn, Wallace, Rono, or maybe Gonzales (or someone else that no one knows about yet), Arkansas is one of the best teams in the NCAA in 2013. 

1 comment:

  1. True, Arkansas 4-5 is unknown at preseason. I anticipate them scoring really well at the 8K distance. 10K will be a little tougher. I'm excited to see Rono's long distance performance. Gabe Gonzales was a high school hero in Springdale (one town down the road from UA). I think he comes in a little underrated. It is great to have him back in Arkansas.