SEC Track Advance

FAYETTEVILLE – Both the defending SEC champion Arkansas Razorbacks men’s and women’s track teams sport plenty of individual champion candidates for the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships today and Saturday in College Station, Texas though individual championships don’t necessarily make a team championship.

In a meet scoring team points attributed 10, 8, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for finishes one through eight, accumulating enough points wins it all even without a 10-point individual or relay finish among them.

In last year’s Arkansas hosted SEC Indoor at the Randal Tyson Track in Fayetteville, Coach Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks men didn’t have a single SEC champion while outpointing runner-up LSU, 116-93.

“It’s not how many home runs you hit,” Bucknam said. “It’s how many runs you score, and at the end of the day that’s how we’re looking at this meet. It’s always team first.”

Bucknam’s men enter the meet first team, ranked No. 1 by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll.

Coach Lance Harter’s Razorbacks women romped, 141-81 over runner-up Florida  at the SEC Indoor last winter in Fayetteville.

“Florida is ranked ahead of us nationally in the polls,” Harter said of the Gators, No. 2 to Arkansas’ No. 3 with future  eventual SEC member Texas still of the Big 12 No. 1. “Right behind us – the SEC is very formidable when it comes to the national rankings. I think we have six of the top nine teams ranked nationally.”

Actually top eight with LSU and Kentucky nationally fourth and fifth in women’s track and Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the host of this weekend’s SEC meet, seventh and eighth.

The league’s superiority is reinforced by so many would have been departed star athletes returning with the NCAA granted  extra year’s eligibility because of the covid interruptions cancelling the 2020 NCAA Indoor Championships and entire 2020 Outdoor schedule and affecting though not cancelling  every team’s 2021 Indoor and Outdoor campaigns.

“Marks that would have scored last year at the National Championships this year wouldn’t even get to the National meet,” Harter said,  “And that’s because of the holdover of the covid year and all these fifth, sixth and seventh year kids staying in the sport trying to make their mark before they go into the real world. So we’re going to have our hands full.”

Recalling that Kevin Lazas won the 2013 NCAA Indoor heptathlon helping Bucknam’s men win that national championship by skipping that grueling seven events in one at the SEC Indoor that Arkansas won as a team, Bucknam and field events coach Travis Geopfert aren’t competing national heptathlon leader Ayden Owens in this weekend’s SEC heptathlon.

“We’re going to rest him for the NCAA meet but he will be competing in the 60-hurdles and most likely on  the 4 x 400 relay which has the third fastest time in the country,” Bucknam said, “So he will be used.”

Bucknam’s Hogs still should be strong in the SEC heptathlon competing All-SEC heptathletes Etamar Bhastekar, and Daniel Specher and transfer Noah Swaby.

Razorbacks men leading the SEC entering this weekend include Bucknam coached runners Kieran Taylor, 1:47.12 in the 800 meters, and Amon Kemboi, 7:42.29 in the 3,000.

Kemboi also leads in the 5,000 but won’t run it as he also runs the anchor mile for the distance medley relay.

Sprints coach Doug Case will be well represented with contending All-SEC hurdlers Phillip Lemonious and Tre’Bien Gilbert and a strong 4 x 400 relay.

For the women with Harter coaching the distances, associate head coach Chris Johnson coaching the sprints and Bryan Compton coaching the vault, prime scoring candidates include national 800-meters leader Shafiqua Maloney, 2:01.74 and Lauren Gregory, the SEC mile leader, 4:32.67, and mile anchor on the SEC’s leading  distance medley relay with All-Americans Krissy Gear and Logan Jolly also prominent in the distance races.

Johnson has Maloney available for the 400-meter leg of the DMR and on what should be a contending 4 x 400 relay while 2021 SEC silver medalist Daszay Freeman returns heading a strong hurdles contingent, and Compton coaches three proven high scoring vaulters in Nastassja  Campbell, Elien Vekemans and Bailee McCorkle.

Bucknam’s men and Harter’s women both won the 2020-21 SEC triple crown for Cross Country, Indoor Track and Outdoor Track and last fall’s SEC Cross Country.

Harter’s Razorbacks are 10 for 10 for the 10 most recent SEC Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor championships.

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