A legendary figure in the distance running community for his conquest of Division II cross country before building Arkansas into the present-day perennial SEC contender it is today, Lance Harter has achieved success matched by few others during his forty-year-and-counting career.
Before embarking on his current 24-year tenure as the leader of the Razorback women’s cross country and track & field programs – annually among the nation’s best in both sports – Harter amassed a Division II legacy at Cal Poly of historic proportions. His teams earned 13 national titles between cross country and track & field, which still stands as the fifth most ever by a Division II coach in any sport.
Shortly after taking over in San Obispo in 1979, Harter transformed the Mustang women’s program into a juggernaut. His women finished tied for 10th at the 1979 AIAW Cross Country Championships amongst all collegiate women’s teams before claiming the small colleges AIAW track & field title the next school year in 1981 – a sign of many things to come.
The following school year began the era of women’s NCAA sports for the first time ever, and it was an era dominated by Harter’s Mustangs. Following a runner-up finish in the inaugural 1981 edition, his ladies won eight consecutive national titles from 1982 through 1989 with individual wins in four of those seasons. That streak has been matched only once in Division II women’s cross country history by Adams State.
The success carried over to the spring, where his Cal Poly women won five NCAA Division II outdoor track & field team titles, including the first three editions of the championships in 1982 through 1984 – four national crowns in a row when counting the AIAW title – and two more in his final two seasons in San Obispo in 1989 and 1990. Interspersed between were three runner-up finishes from 1985-87.
His women won 30 individual event national championships during that span – including an all-time DII-best seven by Teena Colebrook (800 and 1500 meters) – and swept the CCAA conference cross country and track & field titles from 1981-82 through 1989-90.
In 1990 he made the move to Division I Arkansas, which very shortly thereafter made its own transition from the Southwest Conference to the Southeastern Conference. Immediately his teams won the SEC Cross Country Championships in each of their five seasons from 1991-95 and have hardly let up since. His squad would rattle off another streak of five straight from 1998-2002, three more in a row from 2006-08, and most recently another in 2013 for a total of 14 – winning more than half the SEC meets since his arrival.
His cross country teams have finished runner-up nationally four times, including three years in a row from 1991 through 1993, and his women have combined for 25 All-America honors. He also has 17 regional titles to his credit.
On the track, his women have won eight SEC Championships between the indoor and outdoor seasons – most recently in 2014 – fueled by 122 event champions. Nationally, his indoor teams finished as high as third with three more fourth-place podium finishes, and another fourth-place team showing outdoors.
In addition to numerous national and regional coaching awards accumulated through the years, Harter has been inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Honor, the Mt. SAC Relays Hall of Fame and the Cal Poly Hall of Fame. Internationally, he has served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and the head coach of the United States’ 1999 World Championships team.