Ole Miss

Did you know Ole Miss is a cross-country school? That, and other Mississippi musings.

Notes, quotes and an opinion or three, as this college football season heads into its stretch run...

Football dominates the headlines in Mississippi this time of the year, but several achievements in less-publicized sports demand our attention.

First, did you know Ole Miss is a cross-country school? Well, if you go by a program’s success, it surely is. Some folks might have thought it a fluke when the Rebels won their first Southeastern Conference championship in the sport last year.

They proved otherwise at Lexington, Ky., this past weekend when they buried the field for a second straight SEC championship, finishing 55 points ahead of second-place Alabama. It was a team victory and most decisive in the SEC meet since 2015. Two Alabama runners finished 1-2, but all five Ole Miss runners finished in the top 13, led by junior All-American Waleed Suliman of Richmond, Va.

Architect of all this Rebel distance running success is Ryan Vanhoy, in his seventh year at Ole Miss. He has turned Ole Miss into a cross country powerhouse. Under his guidance, the Rebels have reached the NCAA Tournament for the first six times in school history. The Rebels finished fourth in the nation last year and will bid for an even higher finish later this month.

What’s more, Vanhoy also coaches the Ole Miss women’s cross country team, which finished second in the SEC meet to match the program’s highest finish ever. The Ole Miss women have finished in the top three of SEC cross country for the last four years.

“Any time you have a chance to win a conference championship, that’s nothing you should ever take lightly,” Vanhoy said. “I knew coming in we had a chance to establish our program with two straight. Hopefully, this is a precursor for many years to come.”

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Did I say Ole Miss was a cross-country school? Junior golfer Julia Johnson of San Gabriel, La., might beg to differ. All she did this past weekend is shoot a final round, 11-under-par 61 to lead the Ole Miss golfers to a first-place finish in the Battle of the Beach tournament at San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico.

Sixty-one? You don’t see that often on the LPGA Tour.

Johnson’s remarkable round tied an NCAA record. She became only the fourth golfer in women’s college golf history to shoot an 11-under-par round. The Rebels, ranked No. 13 in the nation, finished seven shots ahead of second-place LSU and were the only team in the 16-team tournament to finish under par for 54 holes. Johnson’s record-setting, bogey-free round included an eagle and 10 birdies.

Ole Miss coach Kory Henkes called it the best round of golf she has ever seen.

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Let’s take a quick look at the state’s three FBS schools and their bowl chances:

Ole Miss (3-6) has to win out to reach the six-victory mark. They should achieve the first part of that when they play host to winless New Mexico State Saturday. But then it gets hard. The Rebels finish with LSU at home (Nov. 16) and Mississippi State on the road (Nov. 28). Close-and-almost continues to be the theme for Ole Miss after a hard-fought 20-14 loss at Auburn Saturday. Four of the Ole Miss losses have come by eight or fewer points.

Mississippi State (4-5 and off this week) must win two of their final three to get the six victories. State next plays Alabama in Starkville Nov. 16, seven days after the Crimson Tide’s showdown with LSU. If there is ever a good time to play Bama (and there’s not), that would be it. Then, the Bulldogs play Abilene Christian at home on Nov. 23 and Ole Miss at home on Thanksgiving night. Yes, if there’s not a big upset the Bulldogs’ bowl chances probably will be decided in the Egg Bowl.

Southern Miss (5-3) has four games remaining, all winnable, all lose-able. The Eagles play host to UAB Saturday, before playing at UTSA, Western Kentucky at home, and at Florida Atlantic. Southern Miss likely will be favored over all but FAU. The Eagles are one game behind Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA Western Division. Tech, which owns the tie-breaker over USM, has home games with North Texas and UTSA and road games with Marshall and UAB remaining.

Contact syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.
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