CHARLOTTESVILLE, NOV. 23 -- Arkansas senior Joe Falcon was careful this year at the NCAA cross country championships at Foxfield steeplechase course, glancing around often and watching his footing in the 10,000 meter race. Last year, with less than a quarter mile remaining, he tripped on a sprinkler and finished second.

Today, ascending a slight hill at five miles, he surged away from a pack of about 20 runners, opened a 20-yard lead within a quarter mile and, when no one challenged, went on to win in a course record 2:14.97.

Sparingly experienced Indiana sophomore Kim Betz pulled what appeared to be a typically novice move, leading the women's 5,000-meter race through the first mile. Then, when a group of about 12 passed her and Villanova's Vicki Huber took over at two miles, it appeared Huber had an easy victory. But Betz confounded the odds, overtaking the leaders with about a quarter of a mile remaining to lead the first 13 finishers across the line under the course record, winning in 16:10.85.

At two miles in the men's race, Falcon opened a slight lead over an unexpectedly large group that went through the first mile in 4:35 and the second in 9:18. Then, looking around and ahead at the rolling terrain, he apparently thought better of it and allowed the pack to close in.

"We really didn't go out that fast," said Michigan senior John Scherer, a former Maryland state high school champion while a senior at Glenelg four years ago who finished second today in 29:20:56. He was in 10th with a mile remaining, passing three runners over the last quarter mile and playing leapfrog with Texas's Harry Green 200 yards from the finish line. Green finished third in 29:21.16.

At three miles the huge pack was still tightly grouped, going through in 14:05. "I didn't want to push the pace," Falcon said. "I wanted to wait as late as I could to make my move."

Not many of his competitors saw him this year. He limited his racing to point for the nationals and the upcoming Olympic trials, at which he hopes to qualify for the 5,000 meters. But everybody remembered last year and what he was capable of doing; he has run the mile in 3:56 and was favored to win again this year.

"Everybody was keying off Falcon and waiting for him to make his move," said Virginia Tech senior Steve Taylor, who finished ninth in 29:31.09. "And that's exactly what happened. We ran his race and, when he made his move, no one else could go with him."

Falcon denied last year's incident had a lasting affect on his running and tried to downplay its significance today. But Arkansas Coach John McDonnell said: "He's waited a whole 12 months for this. Especially through cross country it's bothered him. We won as a team last year and that may have taken away some of the bitterness, but deep down I know it hurt him."

Behind Falcon, Arkansas defended its title with 87 points. It is the Razorbacks' third championship in four years. When Wisconsin won in 1985, Arkansas was second. Dartmouth was second for the second year in a row with 119 points and Wisconsin third at 120.

In the women's team race, Oregon won with 98 points, beating North Carolina State with 101 and Yale with 116.

Betz's strategy betrayed her inexperience. "I just go out until I get tired," she said. And when people started passing her and she found herself in the middle of the pack she once led, she said she woke up and simply passed them back.

"It was kind of a mental lapse, I lost concentration, then I got mad at myself and got back into it."

She didn't run cross country in high school, playing soccer instead. Results, Page E7