FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas Razorback men's cross country, led by team captains Lane Boyer and Michael Chinchar, and head coach Chris Bucknam will begin the 2009 season Fri., Sept. 4 with the hosting of the Arkansas Invitational.
"I'm excited for this season to begin," Bucknam said. "We are young but we have some depth. I think that is something we lacked last season. Everyone is a year older and racing experience is key, especially at the SEC and NCAA levels."
The Razorbacks return nine student-athletes with talent, dedication and ability. Leading the team will be standout All-SEC and all-region performers Boyer and Chinchar.
Boyer opened the 2008 season with a race win at the Arkansas Dual. He finished in the top 10 overall and was the second Razorback to cross the finish line at the Stanford Invitational. Chinchar was a top performer for the Razorbacks posting top-20 finishes at the SEC Championship and NCAA South Central Region Championship.
"Our class of juniors is key for us," Bucknam said. "Guys like Lane and Michael have similar experience to most seniors. They know what it's like to race in some of the best meets in the country against some of the toughest competition. They need to carry their track accomplishments to the cross country course."
The captains for the 2009 squad, Boyer and Chinchar showed great improvements during the 2009 indoor and outdoor track and field seasons. Bucknam expects these improvements to carry over to the fall. Boyer made huge strides at 5,000 and 10,000 meters while Chinchar dropped three seconds from both his mile and 1,500-meter times.
Dorian Ulrey will make his cross country debut wearing an Arkansas jersey this fall, after redshirting in 2008. Ulrey will blend in right away to the team dynamics after a stellar 2009 track season that saw him earn four All-America honors, win three SEC individual titles and a boatload of awards and honors. He is returning from an extensive track season that saw him represent Team USA in the 1,500 meters at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin.
"Depending on how he feels after a lengthy track season, Dorian Ulrey will be a big boost for this team," Bucknam said. "He was a very successful cross country runner at UNI and has track experience running in the SEC. While his strength lies in the mile and 1,500-meter races, he still has the strong ability to move up to longer races. His speed will definitely be a benefit."
Sophomore sensations Eric Fernandez and Rick Elliott return to the line-up after their outstanding performances last season that placed both runners on the 2008 SEC All-Freshman team.
"Rick and Eric are two more guys who, for being so young, have a lot of experience," Bucknam said. "Eric had such a strong freshman season. He was running side-by-side with some of the best the NCAA has to offer. And Rick was right behind him. These two guys are definitely part of the future of this program."
Elliott made huge strides in the steeplechase during the outdoor season, scoring points at the SEC Championships and falling just short of the regional-qualifying mark. His steeplechase training will translate perfectly to the sometimes-hilly terrain of various cross country courses.
A 2008 all-region performer, Fernandez was a top finisher for the Razorbacks during the championship season. Fernandez redshirted the 2009 indoor and outdoor track season, and is fit and ready to repeat an impressive campaign.
Arkansas cross country will be without junior Duncan Phillips in 2009 as he is recovering from an injury sustained during the outdoor track season. Bucknam is confident that, once full recovered, Phillips will return to the excellent racing form that saw him run a 4:00 mile during the indoor season.
The Razorbacks will welcome Omar Abdi, Drew Butler, Cameron Efurd and Solomon Haile to the 2009 roster. The newcomers will be a powerful new force for the Razorbacks as they come loaded with experience running with the best. Bucknam anticipates seeing an immediate impact and looks to the new class to provide a boost to the program in 2009.
"This is a strong class of freshmen," Bucknam said. "All four have run with the best preps in the nation. I see them all having an immediate impact on this program and they definitely provide some depth."
Omar Abdi, of Boston, Mass., and Charlestown High School, holds bests of 2:27.80 in the 1,000 meters, 3:54.21 in the 1,500 meters and 4:13.83 in the mile outdoors. He earned a runner-up finish at the 2008 Massachusetts State Cross Country Championships with a 5K time of 16:05.4. He has a cross country 5K best of 15:49 clocked at the 2008 Manchester invitational Nike Classic.
Drew Butler, of The Woodlands, Texas, and The Woodlands High School, was a member of three state champion cross country teams, two Nike Team Nationals championship teams, one Nike Cross Nationals championship teams and ran a leg on the 2008 Nike Outdoor Nationals winning 4xMile relay. At the 2008 Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival, he earned a runner-up finish with a 5K time of 15:20.17. He holds bests of 1:50.83 in the 800 meters, 4:09.62 in the mile and 9:01.20 in the 3,200 meters. His 800-meter time is The Woodlands High School record.
While attending Rogers (Ark.) High School, Efurd was a member of a four cross country state championship teams, two indoor track state championship teams and two outdoor track state championship teams. Efurd was the 2008 Arkansas cross country state champion. He was named the 2008 Arkansas Gatorade Cross Country Athlete of the Year. He holds personal bests of 1:56 in the 800 meters, 4:14.6 in the 1,600 meters, 9:18 in 3,200 meters and 15:20 in the cross country 5K.
Haile, from Silver Spring, Md., shows great potential after a stunning performance during his high school career. He was the 2008 Foot Locker Cross Country Champion (15:15) at Balboa Park in San Diego. He also picked up the 2008 Foot Locker Northeast Regional title with a 5K time of 15:21.90. He was the 2008 Nike Indoor and Outdoor Champion at 5,000 meters, clocking times of 14:53 and 14:36, respectively. He defended his Nike Outdoor title in 2009, clocking a meet-record time of 14:29. Haile was a two-time 2009 National Scholastic Indoor Champion, winning the two-mile run in a time of 9:02.67 and the 5,000 meters in a time of 14:22.88. He was also the 2008 Maryland cross country champion. He holds personal bests of 4:13 at 1,600 meters, 8:56 in the two-mile run, 8:21 in the 3,000 meters, and 14:22 in the 5K.
"The resumes of these freshmen are very impressive," Bucknam said. "I'm excited they chose Arkansas and will be part of our team. We have state champions, Nike Team Champions and the Foot Locker National Champion, you can't ask for much more. Winning races like those shows a lot of promise and potential."
The Razorbacks launch this year's season in Fayetteville, with the Arkansas Invitational, Sept. 4, followed by the Missouri Southern Stampede, in Joplin, Mo., on Sept. 19. October holds the Wisconsin Invitational, in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 3. The Hogs return home Oct. 17 for the Chile Pepper Festival for their last meet before the SEC Championship, in Oxford, Miss. on Oct. 31. Next on the schedule is a trip to Waco, Texas to the NCAA South Central Regional Championships, hosted by Baylor on Nov. 14. The Razorbacks will conclude the season at the NCAA Championships, in Terre Haute Ind. on Nov. 23.