FAYETTEVILLE – The nationally No. 1 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks men and No. 2 2-time defending champion Razorbacks women didn’t post the team finishes for which they aspired at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
But they did impact with champions and near champions at the 2-day meet completed Saturday in Birmingham, Ala.
Coach Lance Harter’s SEC champion Razorbacks women finished fourth with 40 points. Florida and Kentucky, outpointed by Arkansas at the SEC meet Feb. 25-26 in College Station, Texas, won and placed third in Birmingham with 68 and 44 points.
Texas, still in the Big 12 but committed with Oklahoma to join the SEC once their Big 12 obligations are contractually completed, scored 56 points for second.
Coach Chris Bucknam’s SEC champion Razorbacks men finished seventh with 24 points. Texas 39 points, won the men’s team title with North Carolina A&T, 36 points, second followed third through sixth by Northern Arizona, 29 points, SEC members Tennessee, 27, and Texas A&M’s 26 and the Ivy League’s Princeton, 26 with SEC member Georgia, eighth, 23 points Oregon, ninth 22 points and Ole Miss of the SEC and TCU of the Big 12 tied for 10th with 20 points.
Harter’s Razorbacks women won two events for the SEC books.
“One historical moment, we won the distance medley and the 4 x400 and apparently that’s never been done before,” Harter said. “Because usually it’s two extremes of coaching in the track team world.”
Winning the DMR dominated by the anchor mile and the all sprinters 4 x 400 exemplifies the distance/sprints diversity and depth developed to win conference and national championships with Harter’s distance runners and associate head coach Chris Johnson’s sprinters.
Beating much of the nation’s best winning the SEC 4 x 400 Johnson’s quartet of Rosey Effiong, 52.45, Jayla Hollis, 52.71, Shafiqua Maloney, 51.47 and Britton Wilson, 50.7 clocked 3:27.6 in Birmingham over Texas, 3:28.60 and Kentucky, 3:28.77.
Freshman Wilson earlier clocked 51.52 for an All-American sixth in the 400-meter dash, and Maloney, the national 800-meter leader entering the meet, placed an All-American sixth, 2:05.09 in the 800.
Disappointed how she tactically ran the 800, Maloney, the Southern Illinois transfer completing her collegiate eligibility in Birmingham, vowed to atone, Harter said.
“She convinced Chris she would redeem herself on the mile relay and she did.” Harter said. “She took us from third to first, neck and neck with Kentucky. That was her collegiate finale.”
On Jan. 28 in Fayetteville an Arkansas DMR quartet of Krissy Gear, 1,200, Maloney, 800, Wilson, 400 and Lauren Gregory, anchor mile, victoriously clocked a school record 10:51.63.
With Gregory, an All-American fourth in Friday’s 5,000 meters and third in Saturday’s 3,000 totaling 10 points, Wilson and Maloney occupied with individual events, Harter entered what appeared a B-team in the DMR.
Give the B-team an A. Gear, the only holdover and running the 800 instead of the 1,200 led off by Isabel Van Camp, quartermiler Paris Peoples and mile anchor Logan Jolly not only won but broke the UA record. They clocked 10:51.37.
“That was a brag point for us,” Harter said. “People are going ‘Who is that? That’s not Lauren Gregory anchoring your relay.
Basically a new team. The only carryover was Krissy and she went from the 1,200 and ran an 2:03 lifetime best.”
Arkansas suffered during the meet injuries to pole vaulter Nastassja Campbell and hurdler Daszay Freeman but would have been unable on the national level to outscore the Florida Gators they outscored in the SEC even with them full tilt.
“We did what we could do,” Harter said. “I thought we’d be in the 40s (team points) but if Florida got on a roll they would be unstoppable because of the transfers from Georgia.
I think 31 of their points came from those transfers.”
Outdoors the Hogs at conference and national meets lose the distance medley but on the track gain the 4 x 100 relay, 10,000-meter run, 3,000-meter steeplechase and 400-intermediate hurdles.
“The exciting part is I think we’ll be a better team outdoors,” Harter said. “So if indoors is supposed to be a springboard for us into the outdoor season it did its job.”
Obviously Bucknam’s No. 1 men ranked suffered some hiccups.
Bucknam said beforehand the rankings meant zilch and that the Hogs were just one among 10 capable of winning the meet which Texas did with 47 points.
But Bucknam’s SEC champions still impacted, ironically most impacting with the athlete not competing his speciality at the SEC meet.
Ayden Owens, the Puerto Rican transfer via Michigan, won the NCAA heptathlon that field events coach Travis Geopfert withheld him from at the SEC meet just two weeks before the NCAA meet. Owens won the 7-events/2-day hepathlon overcoming heptathlon points leader Kyle Garland of Georgia by running 15 seconds faster (2:31.55) on the final event 1,000-yard run.
“Ayden is a special athlete and a great competitor,” Bucknam said. “I’m really, really proud of his effort. For him to battle back like he did, and then run that 1,000m in which he had to beat the Georgia athlete by 13.5 seconds, and to do that with a four-second PR it’s the epitome of what a Razorback athlete is all about.”
Geopfert said, ““The real challenge of character and showing who you are when things aren’t perfect. What are you going to do? He showed what he’s made of. It was an epic performance.”
Running an All-American seventh in Friday’s 5,000 meters for two team points, Amon Kemboi totaled 10 team points in a torrid finishing 3,000 meters Saturday.
“There were 16 great distance runners out there and he was one of them,” said Bucknam. “He took charge from the beginning. After the first couple of laps he took over the lead and didn’t relinquish it until the final stretch. He got boxed in a little bit, and I think that hurt him, just on that last turn.
On the heels of Northern Arizona, winner Abidihamid Nur 7:59.88, Kemboi, 8:00.21, was one of seven running 8:00 and change.
“Unbelievable performance by Amon,” Bucknam said. “I’m really proud of him with that effort.”