Lauren Gregory returns to racing in SEC preview
Arkansas opens the 2020 cross country season with a visit to Baton Rouge for the SEC preview hosted by LSU on Saturday, September 19 at the University Club with the women running at 9:45 a.m. for a distance of 5,000m.
The teams participating in the SEC preview include LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M. A crew of 14 Razorbacks are scheduled to participate in the competition, which will be open to spectators with the required masks.
“We’re trying to solidify that team chemistry in a competitive environment,” Arkansas women’s head coach Lance Harter said at the start of the season. “So far, everything has been just practices. It’s impossible to simulate a racing format in a competitive spirit, so to speak.
“So we look forward to the opportunity to allow all of these new faces to come together and wear a common uniform, and then get right into the action with some of our formidable enemies in the SEC.”
Leading the team are two members of last season’s national championship team, seniors Abby Gray and Lauren Gregory. The returning Razorbacks in the first competition of the season also include Josie Carson, Quinn Owen, Alex Ritchey, Meghan Underwood, Isabel Van Camp.
Taylor Ewert, Logan Morris, Lainey Quandt, Julia Paternain, Corie Smith, Kennedy Thomson and Tori Willis make their debuts for Arkansas.
For Gregory, this is his first competition since his run at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last November. She used a season of red shirts during the 2020 indoor campaign to treat some aches and pains.
“For me, I’m just happy to be healthy again,” Gregory noted. “It takes a long time to get back into the rhythm of things, especially with the race and being out for so long. I’m from last year and still have this fresh memory on my mind, then the momentum this season is really great.
Gregory chose not to wear a red shirt during the 2019 cross country season, instead offering his services to a team in search of the program’s first national title in cross country. She was the fifth finisher for the Razorbacks in domestic competition as Arkansas won the NCAA title by six points over BYU.
“I think anyone would have done it for each other that day,” said Gregory. “It wasn’t a sacrifice I wasn’t prepared to make, but I think it had a bigger impact on me after I wasn’t really expecting it. Just mentally and quite simply wanting, so badly, to be in good health and to continue this momentum of national victories and then to be able to run during the indoor season.
Harter added: “What people don’t understand is that last year Lauren wasn’t close to 100% but she was still able to be in goal position for us and won the title. national in a very tight finish with BYU.
“Lauren did a fantastic job sacrificing a red shirt season for this team. Once she stepped forward and said we were going to go, everyone was in their debt.
Now a new season awaits you along with an opportunity to race again with your teammates and help guide newcomers to a Razorback program that can appreciate being ranked as the reigning national champions.
“We have a really big group of new girls, so it’s kind of nice to rewrite everything, start from scratch and try things that we haven’t tried before,” said Gregory.
“I think because it happened and everyone knows it happened nationally in cross country, it’s cool because we don’t have to remind anyone that we are. national champions. Everyone came here with the memory and the idea that we did something very special.
Memories of the national championship experience for Gregory focus more on the celebrations after the grueling race in very wet and freezing conditions in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“I don’t remember much from the race, and I think everyone shares that feeling of not knowing what’s going on all the time,” said Gregory. “But I just remember going in the parachute and I couldn’t see anything other than my teammates, not even the ones running, but the people who drove all the way to Indiana to support us.
“I think it was the best feeling, all of a sudden being in a huge mass of people running that you didn’t know and then finishing up and looking up and seeing everyone you knew. All of my roommates, close friends and the people I live next to, it was just amazing to have this support group and everyone who was there having a happy supper for each other.
This level of support also paid dividends during Gregory’s recovery period, which was extended beyond the indoor season when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the outdoor season. So, after nine months of training and recovery, Gregory is once again ready to go the line.
“Everyone here was so supportive of me, I just came back to it,” said Gregory. “The cancellation of the outdoors was difficult for me, but more difficult for my teammates who were still on the move. For me, it gave me a good time to reboot and recover. I’m excited for this year, with everything in it, and just to be flexible with things. “
Comments on the upcoming season from Coach Harter and Coach Bucknam