2017 FloXC Countdown: #5 Arkansas Men
Probable Top Five:
SR Jack Bruce (7:58 3K; 13:38 5K; 2nd at '17 NCAA Outdoor 5K; 19th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Alex George (3:42 1500; 7:55 3K; 13:40 5K; 15th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Cameron Griffith (4:03 Mile; 13:52 5K; 48th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Andrew Ronoh (8:06 3K; 13:59 5K; 28:36 10K; 67th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Austen Dalquist (4:02 Mile; 13:58 5K; 30:49 10K; 89th at '15 NCAA XC)
Ryan Murphy via Marion, IA (4:12 Mile; 9:00 3200; 15:15 5K XC; 3rd at '17 NBN Outdoor 5K)
Matt Young via Jenks, OK (9:11 3200; 15:08 5K XC; 4th at '16 NBN Outdoor 5K)
Hayden Dressel via Mead, WA (4:15 Mile; 9:26 3200; 15:04 5K XC)
Sam Schillinger via Cedar Falls, IA (4:16 Mile; 9:06 3200; 15:20 5K XC)
An all-star Razorback squad led by head coach Chis Bucknam in his tenth year will be on a mission to get on the podium at nationals. The team returns its top four finishers from last year's NCAA meet, where they finished fifth.
Arkansas doesn't have any superstar recruits this year that should make any immediate impact, but what they lack in young talent they make up for in experience and development on the track last year. All five of the projected scorers are coming off sub-14 5K PBs in the spring -- a rarity among even the top NCAA teams. Tops among those 5K runners is Jack Bruce, who's coming off a break-out season culminating in a runner-up finish at the NCAA outdoor 5K this spring. He stands to make a big jump from his already-impressive 19th-place 2016 showing and could be the team's low stick.
Behind Bruce is fellow senior Alex George. George has similar if not better track PRs to Bruce in all distances, but he has yet to show the championship racing form to place at an NCAA track event. That's all fine when it comes to the grass, though, as George popped an impressive 15th-place showing at NCAAs last year to beat Bruce and be the top Razorback man on the day. He could be the runner responsible for two top-15 sticks at nationals -- a lethal combination.
The 3-4-5 trio of Cameron Griffith, Andrew Ronoh, and Austen Dalquist will be the essential piece to chip away at that team score. Ronoh, a transfer from Iowa Central CC, really impressed last year with his 28:36 10K -- the second-fastest of all collegians that year. He has yet to drop a comparable time in 2017, but his sub-14 5K proves he's fit and could improve upon his 67th-place finish and become a potential All-American. Griffith could be the third All-American in front of him, though, as he was just eight spots away from the honor in 2016 and has since dropped a nice 13:52 5K PR. Dalquist struggled a little last year, finishing 196th, but he has finished 86th his sophomore year and is coming off big sub-14 and sub-31 5K and 10K PRs this spring, indicating a return to '15 form and a top-80 placing could be in the cards for the final scorer.
If any one of the top five falters, things could get a little dicey. On paper, the man to pick up the slack would be redshirt senior Christian Heymsfield, who went from being a mediocre high school runner and not running for the team at all his first two years of college to a two-time NCAA XC championship performer in '14 and '15. Though his best finish of 196th as the sixth Arkansas man in 2015 would have to improve considerably to contribute, Heymsfield's ceiling isn't really known, having not participated in track at all since high school. But optimal race strategy won't be an issue for Heymsfield -- he had the highest GPA of all runners at NCAAs in 2014.
The Arkansas men will be hoping to keep the ball rolling this season with career-best NCAA XC finishes for all of the top five runners. With lots of runners coming off break-out seasons, we could see a big decrease in that team score and a potential podium finish for the Razorbacks.
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