FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas head women’s track coach Lance Harter will always remember in shades of Gray Saturday’s conclusion to the 2-day Razorback Invitational meet at Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Indoor Track.
Fourth-year junior distance runner Abby Gray, her previous best races a couple of years ago scoring team two points and one with seventh and eighth-place SEC Outdoor and Indoor 5,000-meter finishes, won Saturday’s 3,000-meters run clocking a personal record 9:16.98 with Georgia’s Jessica Drop, 9:18.64, second in a strong field also including distance runners from Stanford, Oregon, Texas, LSU and Kansas State.
“Abby Gray winning the 3,000 on a 21 seconds PR, that was huge!” Harter said. “9:16, it’s been a longtime coming. To beat that type of caliber talent that’s a huge breakthrough confidence wise.”
Gray had the only first place in the meet for Harter’s Razorbacks, the defending NCAA and SEC Indoor team champions.
She joined Greenwood’s Bailee McCorkle, bettering her personal record by five inches for 14-0 and second place in Friday night’s pole vault, as the Razorbacks’ women surprises of the meet.
Harter also cited Arkansas milers Carina Viljoen, 4:36.52, Chrissy Gear, a personal record, 4:37.20, and Katie Izzo, 4:37.40, for their third through fifth finishes Saturday behind Stanford super star milers Ella Donaghu, 4:33.71 and Jessica Lawson, 4:35.56.
Donaghu mile anchored Stanford’s victorious distance medley relay Friday night but Izzo gave her a good run, Harter said. The Razorbacks’ second-place DMR likely advancing to the NCAA Indoor Championships March 13-14 in Albuquerque, N.M. off its 10:57.08.
Arkansas’ women 4 x 400 relay Saturday, even with two off form handoffs, ran second, 3:33.45 to Florida’s 3:33.31.
Harter’s Razorbacks are defending NCAA and SEC Indoor team champions but in the Razorback Invitational scoring were sixth in the 13-team meet with 62.5 points behind SEC members LSU, 96, Florida, 80, Texas of the Big 12, 70, Georgia of the SEC, 67, and Oregon of the Pac 12, 65./
Kansas State and Stanford, 44 points each, started the next scoring tier followed by Oklahoma, Missouri, Auburn, Oklahoma State and Purdue.
Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men finished third at the Razorback Invitational with 73 points, closely behind Texas, 79, and Oregon, 75, and just ahead of SEC rivals Florida, 72 and LSU, 70.
Team scoring this weekend was kept mainly for fans.
Coaches approach this meet trying to qualify athletes for the NCAA Indoor Championships and prepare for their conference meets rather than scoring team points.
Still, Bucknam said it did give his team an SEC inkling coming off last year’s SEC Indoor runner-up.
“It kind of just shows you where we’re at — in the thick of it,” Bucknam said. “This is why we keep a team score, so we can measure where we’re at and not just run a time trial.”
Both Arkansas teams and their opponents pulled athletes with twinges of injuries who otherwise would have competed with a conference title on the line.
SEC Indoor and Outdoor distance champion Gilbert Boit, coming off flu for Bucknam’s men, debuted just rabbiting the 3,000 and dropping out after 400 as Razorbacks Emmanuel Cheboson, 8:01.49 and Matt Young, 8:03.00, placed fifth and sixth.
Jaquan Nairn, long jumping a personal record 26-0 3-4 Friday night, fouled on a would-have been long first jump triple jump Saturday then dropped out because of a hamstring “twinge,” Bucknam said.
Arkansas’ Cameron Griffith, out of the DMR mile anchor money with the rest of the field Friday as Oregon’s DMR blistered four legs start to finish to set a collegiate record 9:24.52, ran second, 4:02.19 in Saturday’s mile to Oregon’s Cooper Teare , 4:00.21.
Razorbacks 60-meter hurdlers Carl Elliott, 7.76, and Tre’Bien Gilbert, 7.79 ran personal bests Saturday placing second and fifth.
“Just before that race I was talking about that we need to have a breakthrough,” Arkansas men’s sprints coach Doug Case said. “At this time of year that’s a very good time. I know our training and I know they are going to get better.”
Also Arkansas sprinter Kris Hari ran a personal best 6.65 in Saturday’s 60-meter dash prelim but scratched from the final because of hamstring soreness.
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action