FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ men’s and women’s teams brought surprising suspense to the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championship last Friday and Saturday in College Station, Texas.
No suspense in the outcome.
Coach Lance Harter’s nationally No. 3 ranked, defending national Indoor champion Razorbacks women won their 11th consecutive SEC championship for cross country, indoor and outdoor track including eight straight in SEC Indoor track.
Coach Chris Bucknam’s nationally No. 1 Razorbacks men won their third consecutive SEC Indoor. They join Harter’s women as one SEC Outdoor title away from duplicating SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crowns that both teams achieved in 2020–2021.
So what’s the suspense?
Into Thursday afternoon both Razorbacks teams fretted getting to College Station to defend their SEC Indoor titles won last year in Fayetteville.
The charter plane scheduled Wednesday morning to fly into Northwest Arkansas and transport them to College Station for workouts on hosting Texas A&M’s indoor track canceled because of the snow and ice spanning from Northwest Arkansas to Dallas.
Another flight got hastily arranged by late Thursday afternoon.
“We got in at 9,” Harter said.
Bucknam and Harter said their “teams never flinched” about missing the get acquainted workouts Wednesday and Thursday at Texas A&M.
“It really got the kids fired up,” Harter said of both teams reflected in their celebratory Hog Calls. “It was a really unified team effort.”
With Harter’s women reigning national champions and Bucknam’s men nationally ranked No. 1, both teams obviously harbor national team championship aspirations for the NCAA Indoor March 11-12 in Birmingham, Ala.
Neither, though, take for granted conference championship meets that the late John McDonnell made an Arkansas tradition coaching Razorbacks men to 84 Southwest Conference and SEC championship titles from 1974-2008.
Bucknam looking for his regime’s second national title since the Razorbacks won the 2013 NCAA Indoor did cut it a little SEC close. Like in 2013 when they withheld eventual NCAA Indoor heptathlon champion Kevin Lazas from the grueling 7-events in one heptathlon at the SEC Indoor, Bucknam and field events coach Travis Geopfert withheld nationally No. 1 heptathlete Ayden Owens from this SEC Indoor other than the open 60-meter hurdles.
They also withheld slightly injured NCAA Indoor qualified long jumper-triple jumpers Jonathan Baker and Ryan Baker.
“That took maybe 10 to 16 points off the board,” Bucknam said. “But we thought it was in our best interest to have those guys 100 percent healthy before the NCAA Championships. We told our team, ‘We’ll just have to make those points up somewhere else.”
They did, not even running their A-team in the last event 4 x 400. Arkansas had secured an 86-77 victory over surprising runner-up Florida outpointing nationally No. 6 Alabama.
“I think it shows the strength of our team that things didn’t go perfectly and we were still able to win in the best league in the country,” Bucknam said.
Winning the 2021 SEC Indoor strictly on depth without an individual SEC champion, Arkansas’ men this time won SEC individual titles with Amon Kemboi, 7:47.34 and shattering the meet record, 7:54.19 set by former Razorback Cameron Griffith, winning Saturday’s 3,000 after Friday mile anchoring Arkansas’ distance medley.
Arkansas’ Patrick Kiprop won Friday’s 5,000 after Alabama’s Hillary Cheruiyot was disqualified for stepping off the track during the race.
Arkansas’ depth sealed the deal. The Hogs tallied a 20-point 3,000, the meet’s second to last event, with Kemboi’s 10 first-place points plus 10 more from freshman brothers Ben and Josh Shearer placing fourth and sixth and Myles Richter, seventh.
With Florida nationally second to his Razorbacks’ third, and LSU, Kentucky, Ole Miss and host Texas A&M nationally ranked fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth, Harter said he and associate head coach/sprints coach Chris Johnson and vault coach Bryan Compton could take no chances withholding anyone apt to score in College Station.
Pre-meet Harter said he “doped out” the form sheets four different times and always came up “one to seven points short of Florida.”
Harter cried “wolf,” again the rest of the SEC grumbles. Arkansas amassed 127.5 points to 97 for the runner-up Gators.
The meet was close, Harter said, until an Arkansas bonanza closed the final three events, the 3,000, the pole vault and the 4 x 400.
The 4 x 400 unit of Rosey Effiong, Jayla Hollis, Shafiqua Maloney, the SEC Indoor 800-meter champion who ‘looked fabulous,” Harter said, earlier Saturday and freshman anchor Britton Wilson, a surprising 50.88 for second in the open 400, not only won the 4 x 400 but in a collegiate record 3:24.09. They shattered the 3:26.27 collegiate record Texas A&M set last year.
Arkansas scored 18 in the vault with Elien Vekemans, 14-8 winning to out-vault LSU Swedish Olympian Lisa Gunnarson with Arkansas’ Natassja Campbell third and sophomore Mackenzie Hayward seventh.
Lauren Gregory, already with two second places in Saturday’s mile and Friday night’s distance medley relay mile anchor, won Arkansas’ 20-point 3,000 meters Saturday with teammates Isabel Van Camp and Logan Jolly, third and fifth.
With the meet in hand, Gregory insisted on running the 3,000 as a workout for the NCAA meet.
“If it was a workout for finishing it was perfect,” Harter said.