NCAA Indoor Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Over a long weekend the University of Arkansas SEC champion men’s and women’s teams will attempt to win national championships in indoor track and field in Fayetteville and cross country in Stillwater, Okla.

The NCAA has set up what amounts to be an obstacle course for Lance Harter’s Razorbacks women, nationally ranked No. 1 in both indoor track and cross country, and Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men, nationally ranked No. 3 in indoor track and cross country but both teams stretched thin.

For after the Thursday through Saturday NCAA Indoor Championships that Arkansas hosts at the Randal Tyson Indoor Track, the traditionally autumn NCAA Cross Country Championships suddenly loom Monday in Stillwater, Okla.

Unlike the SEC, which ran its cross country season last fall with Harter’s reigning from 2019 national champions repeating as SEC champs and Bucknam’s also winning the SEC, enough conferences did not compete because of covid concerns for the NCAA to postpone November’s NCAA Cross Country Championships until spring.

That the NCAA chose to run cross country nationals just two days after the NCAA Indoor obviously places a hardship on schools running their distance runners at the NCAA Indoor unlike some schools choosing to skip the Indoor meet and put all their eggs in the cross country basket.

“No one has stepped forward and said ‘What a great idea I had of putting the cross country championship back to back with the national indoor track championship!” Harter said. “Whoever made that decision is laying low.”

Bucknam expresses equal dismay.

“It’s a shame they made us try and choose,” Bucknam said of between indoor track and cross country without thought at least to running the cross country nationals the week after next for some extra recovery time.

Bucknam and Harter choose to do both but with emphasis on the sport that’s in season and the meet they host.

“We’re all in on indoor track and then doing the best we can and let the chips fall where they may when we get to the cross country championships,” Bucknam said.

Both coaches lament that because of covid concerns no fans will be allowed to attend the NCAA Indoor that the UA made renovations at Randal Tyson to host.

But their teams have become accustomed to creating their own energy with fans not attending this season’s meets at Randal Tyson including the SEC Indoor Championships that Arkansas swept.

With a school record 25 qualified entries, Harter’s women are favored to win the NCAA Indoor they won in 2019 but couldn’t defend in 2020 with the meet covid cancelled in Albuquerque. N.M. the day before it was to open.

However on a national level the Texas A&M and Georgia women’s teams that Arkansas overwhelmed at the conference meet with its conference depth are more formidable with the national meet scoring more diffused.

“Those that know the breakdown should know that Texas A&M is going to have some points that no one is going to stop,” Harter said. “They have the collegiate record in the 4 x400 and the world’s fastest quartermiler, their pentathlete is the defending national champion and the highest high jumper in the U.S right now. Georgia has a couple of ingredients that will be hard to stop in the field events.”

So does Arkansas, running, jumping and vaulting with a meet high 25 entries in 13 events including the SEC Indoor 4 x 400 relay champions and SEC Indoor mile champion Krissy Gear. also running a leg on the distance medley relay with 2019 All-American Katie Izzo, her cross country eligibility completed, doubling in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters and Lauren Gregory doubling in the 3,000 and DMR.

Gregory, Gear, Gracie Hyde, Logan Morris and Abby Gray all will go various distances indoors then run again as Arkansas’ cross country top five in Stillwater.

Bucknam’s men competed at the SEC meet with such depth to win the meet without a single meet champion.

That’s harder to do in the national meet that’s more “all-starish” Bucknam said.

However his Hogs have more qualifiers, 18 entries in 10 events, than No. 1 Oregon, No. 2 LSU or anybody else.

“We have the most qualifiers of anybody in the meet,” Bucknam said. “But we have to be dialed in and get in there and score points. Any misstep is really felt.”

The Hogs ask a lot of Amon Kemboi and Gilbert Boit, doubling in the 3,000 and 5,000 meter runs then coming back Monday in Stillwater as will Matt Young and Jacob McLeod after running the 5,000 here.

They also count on All-SEC heptathletes Markus Ballengee, Etamar Bhastekar, Daniel Spejcher, halfmiler Kieran Taylor and hurdlers Phillip Lemonious and Tre’Bien Gilbert and their distance medley and 4 x 400 relays.

“Our guys are healthy and ready to go,” Bucknam said.

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