TERRE HAUTE, Ind. • In cross country, a team can often tell shortly after a race begins if it is going to be “its day.” For the Ole Miss men, that moment came less than five minutes into the 10K race when one of their top scorers dropped out.
It was all uphill from that point on for the Rebels.
Ole Miss, ranked No. 9 in the country, finished a disappointing 22nd in the NCAA National Cross Country Championships on Saturday morning after senior Farah Abdulkarim – often a top finisher for the Rebels – stepped off the course just after the start.
“When one of your top scorers drops out three minutes in, what message does that send to the rest of the team?” said an obviously upset Ole Miss associate head cross country coach Ryan Vanhoy. “You know, from that point on, it was an uphill battle.”
Vanhoy said he felt this year’s squad had similar capabilities as the 2016 men’s team that finished a school-best fourth at nationals. The team won the South Region Nov. 15 in Tallahassee, with Abdulkarim, sophomore Cade Bethmann and junior Waleed Suliman all finishing in the Top 10.
Suliman was the only bright spot for the Rebels on Saturday, finishing 20th overall to claim All American honors with a time of 31:09. Sophomore Mario Garcia Romo (32:04) was second for the Rebels and Parker Scott (32:19)third.
“As a team, it was disappointing,” Suliman said. “It was a tough course, it beat up a lot of runners, slippery and wet. Our strategy was for Cade, Farah and myself to run together to the mid-point in the race and start moving up – that is how we normally race and it has been very effective. Some of our guys got stuck in the back and couldn’t move up.
“We were ranked ninth coming in and to finish 22nd, that is not what we were looking for,” Suliman said.
Brigham Young won the men’s race with 109 points, breaking second-place finisher Northern Arizona’s three-year stranglehold on the title.
Women keep fighting
Vanhoy was more pleased with his women’s team’s effort as the Lady Rebels finished 22nd in the 6K race with a young squad that has battled injuries throughout the year. It was the best finish in school history at the NCAAs.
“It was a great race for the women,” Vanhoy said. “To go through what they have gone through and to have the best finish in school history, that says a lot.”
Junior Anna Elkin finished the course in 92nd place with a time of 21:13. Freshman Skylar Boogerd was the second Lady Rebel to cross the finish line in 140th place (21:33) and sophomore Ylvi Traxler in 147th place (21:36.4).
SEC foe Arkansas captured the women’s title with 96 points with BYU second (102) and Stanford third (123).