FAYETTEVILLE – Partly by injuries and partly by choice, the always heavily favored Lance Harter coached Arkansas Razorbacks women’s team isn’t quite so heavily favored at this weekend’s SEC Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships.
Meanwhile the formerly always favored Chris Bucknam coached Razorbacks’ team believes it’s back in the running for the SEC Men’s Indoor championship it last won in 2017.
The Texas A&M Aggies host the SEC Women’s and SEC Men’s Indoor Championships Friday and Saturday in College Station, Texas.
With 2019 national championships in NCAA Indoor and Outdoor track last winter and spring and NCAA Cross Country last fall, and winners of 17 of the last 19 SEC Cross Country, Indoor and SEC Outdoor Championships including the 2018-2019 SEC triple crown and a leg up for 2019-2020 after winning SEC Country, Coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks women roll on an incredible run.
Their run runs a risk this weekend.
With quartermiler Keithlin Campbell and distance runner Lauren Gregory redshirting because of injuries, injured since 2018 distance runner Katrina Robinson withdrawing from the team, and distance runner Taylor Werner and sprinter Jada Baylark redshirting because Harter wants those 2020 seniors running as 2021 seniors when Arkansas hosts the NCAA Indoor Championships at the Randal Tyson Track, that’s five Arkansas All-Americans not competing in College Station.
It’s a lot to ask dominating the nation’s best women’s track conference without them.
“Considering some of the decisions we’ve made to redshirt and save some of our people for this next year and also our outdoor season, we’re going to make it very, very close,” Harter said.
Still, the Razorbacks women are so strong to rank No. 3 in the nation.
Only problem, two SEC teams have the nationally two spots ahead of the Razorbacks with Texas A&M and Kentucky close behind ranked fifth and sixth.
“LSU right now is No. 1 in the nation,” Harter said. “Georgia is No. 2.”
However the team depth it takes to win conference championships doesn’t always compute to national championship contending teams.
In Arkansas’ case it obviously does. It does, too, with LSU, Harter said.
“LSU has the firepower, especially in the sprints and the jumps,” Harter said. “Trying to do some calculated guessing, I think it comes down to ourselves, LSU and maybe possibly A&M. A&M always have a tendency to rise when they’re at home.”
Sophomore Tiana Wilson, named SEC Runner of the Week after clocking 52.77 in the 400-meter dash, heads Arkansas’ sprint crew.
Though the NCAA Indoor looms March 13-14, Harter said his distance crew, headed by Katie Izzo, Devin Clark, Carina Viljoen and Maddy Reed, willingly overload trying for another team title.
“We went to our distance crew and said, ‘A lot of it is going to be on your backs,’ Harter said. “And to an athlete every one of them said, ‘Yeah, let’s go after it. If I have to double, if I have to triple, I’m more than willing to do that.”
With NCAA champion twins Lexi Weeks Jacobus and Tori Weeks Hoggard and All-American Desiree Freier graduated, Arkansas’ rivals likely hoped Compton ran out or quality vaulters.
Junior walk-on Bailee McCorkle of Greenwood, surpassing her 2019 personal record by nearly a foot (now 14-2.75), and Lauren Martinez (14-4.50) setting personal records since transferring from the University of California, already exceed expectations.
“Bryan always said that once the twins graduated that he’d need some mental therapy,” Harter said. “But he’s masterful at how he’s able to bring people along that were kind of in the shadows in years past.”
Bucknam’s men’s cross country, indoor and outdoor teams have won 19 SEC crowns and a NCAA Indoor crown since he succeeded John McDonnell, the retired 42-times national champion/84 times conference champion icon.
But his injury depleted 2019 Razorbacks overachieved to be SEC Indoor and Outdoor runner-ups to Florida.
Though knowing it will be a tough nationally No. 10 compared to defending SEC Outdoor champ LSU, No,. 2, defending SEC Indoor champion Florida No. 3, Georgia, sixth, Tennessee, eighth and No. 13 Texas A&M at home, Bucknam and assistants Doug Case and Mario Sategna believe their team has the health, depth and firepower with returning SEC 3,000 and 5,000 champions Cameron Griffith and Gilbert Boit, and quality sprinters Kris Hari Jeremy Farr and Jalen Brown and long jumper-triple jumper Laquan Nairn to contend.
“I feel everybody’s ready and as a team we’ve prepared well,” Case said. “The guys feel like we’re in it to win it.”