BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Sept. 14, 2020)-----The first official Southeastern Conference athletic competitions of the 2020-21 academic year are slated to begin this week, including cross country meets on three SEC campuses.
All 14 SEC schools are scheduled to compete in cross country meets and soccer games this week, marking the SEC's initial return to athletic competition since after games were halted on March 11.
The first cross country meet of the season is slated for Friday when Florida will compete in the Mountain Dew Invitational in Gainesville, Fla.
Eleven SEC schools will compete in two different races on Saturday. Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M will run in the SEC Preview Meet in Baton Rouge, La., while Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will compete in the Commodore Classic in Nashville, Tenn.
"I can't tell you how excited we are with this opportunity to race," said Vanderbilt coach Steve Keith. "These student-athletes have not been in a competitive environment since our SEC Indoor Track meet at the end of February, so they are very anxious to get back on the starting line with their teammates. You can only train so long and now it's time to test our fitness."
Ole Miss has claimed the men's cross country titles in each of the last two years. The Rebels return two-time All-American and two-team First Team All-SEC honoree Waleed Suliman in addition to the last two SEC Freshman of the Year honorees, Cole Bullock in 2019 and Cade Bethmann in 2018.
Arkansas has won the last seven SEC women's titles, and the Razorbacks last year became the first SEC team to win the NCAA women's cross country championship in three decades. Lauren Gregory and Abby Gray return to action in 2020 and will be joined by a host of newcomers.
SEC cross country teams will compete in at least two and up to three competitions before the SEC Championships. Each team's schedule includes at least one week off from competition between races.
"We are thrilled to be back together as a team," Missouri coach Marc Burns said. "It has been challenging to say the least to adjust to the COVID-19 regulations but we are thankful to be back. Our student-athletes have been longing for a sense of normalcy throughout the pandemic. Being back at school and training as a group has really helped them get back into a rhythm. Both teams are chomping at the bit to compete. We are thankful for our sports medicine team and administration for all the work they have done to help us return to action."
The 2020 SEC Cross Country Championships is slated for Oct. 30 in Baton Rouge, La.
"We are so excited and thankful for the SEC and the University of Tennessee for providing us these opportunities to compete this fall," Tennessee coach Beth Alford-Sullivan said. "We will take the opportunities and utilize this fall for higher levels of training, learning from competition and preparation for more success in the future seasons and years.
SEC Cross Country Week 1 Schedule
Mountain Dew Invitational (Gainesville, Fla.)
SEC Preview Meet (Baton Rouge, La.)
Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M
Commodore Classic (Nashville, Tenn.)
Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Vanderbilt