FAYETTEVILLE — A national championship appears out of reach for Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks competing Wednesday and Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Yet the Razorbacks, with an already banner season winning the SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crown, have a national honor dear to their heart for which they aspire.
The John McDonnell Award, named to honor Arkansas’ retired 42 national champion and 84 times champion track and cross country coach and honoring the nation’s best all-round cross country and indoor and outdoor track program, will be Arkansas’ with a Top Ten team finish in Eugene.
Iowa State’s eighth to Arkansas’ at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Okla. and 13th to Arkansas’ seventh at the NCAA Indoor in College Station, Texas comes closest to Arkansas’ cumulative national success.
“I know we’re in the mix for the John McDonnell Program of the Year Trophy,” Bucknam said. “I think Iowa State is our main competition. So I hope we have a high enough finish that we can come away way with that award. Iowa State is really good this year so it will be a battle. We’ve got goals on two fronts. Scoring as high as we can and leading the race on the program of the year award. Every point, Everything is going to matter.”
LSU, the team whose Arkansas’ conference depth overcame to win the SEC Outdoor in College Station but with too much national quality for the Hogs, or anybody else it’s projected, is the heavy men’s favorite in Eugene.
“They are good across the board and they are clearly the favorite this weekend,” Bucknam said. “Oregon will give them a run on their home track. We’ll be trying to scrape and scratch for as many points as we can and get a Top Ten finish. Three national Top Ten finishes (adding to the SEC triple crown). If that would happen it would be a pretty good season across the board. We’d be thrilled.”
Arkansas’ prospects took a double hit at the NCAA West Preliminary meet in College Station when hurdler Tre’Bien Gilbert false started and LaQuan Nairn didn’t advance in the long jump.
However Nairn did qualify for Eugene in the triple jump and the Hogs have two 110-meter hurdlers, Phillip Lemonious and Carl Elliott in Wednesday’s prelims in Eugene aiming for Friday’s final.
“We feel that Phillip and Carl Elliott can score,” Bucknam said “Phillip Lemonious in the 60-hurdles was fourth (nationally) indoors. Phillip is somebody who could challenge for the top two or three or one spot. I think Carl has a great shot of getting in the finals.”
Markus Ballengee, recovered from the injury forcing his withdrawal from the SEC Indoor decathlon, and Daniel Spejcher are in Eugene’s 2-day decathlon.
“We feel like Markus and Daniel can score,” Bucknam said.
In the distance races the Hogs have Amon Kemboi in the 5,000-meters and Gilbert Boit in the 10,000 and qualified both relays, the 4 x100 and 4 x 400.
“ Amon Kemboi is really dangerous in the 5K. We didn’t double him 5 and 10 or 1,500 and 5 so we think he’s one of the better distance runners in the country and he has a shot. Gilbert Boit looked really good in the 10K. He looked fresh. Didn’t double him for the first time this year so he’ll be fresh in there. All the guys in the 4 x 100 and 4x 400 are not in any individual event. So they’ve got one job to do and that is try and get to the finals both in the 4 x100 and 4x 400.”
Ladybacks prepare for NCAA National tournament
Nobody would think the old Rodney Dangerfield line of “I get no respect” would apply to Lance Harter’s Razorbacks leading into the NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
But apparently it does.
For despite winning another SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crown, winning last March’s NCAA Indoor in Fayetteville and winning the 2019 NCAA Outdoor, the last NCAA Outdoor competed since the covid-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season, Arkansas is just the fifth-rated team with the NCAA Women’s Outdoor to be conducted Thursday and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s $300 million renovated Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. Given the super star national points potential of favorite LSU, No. 3. Texas A&M and No. 4, Georgia all conference level outpointed indoors and outdoors by Arkansas in the SEC, and No. 2 Southern California of the Pac 12, Harter doesn’t disagree.
However he’s not conceding his Razorbacks national champion program of six NCAA Indoor, Outdoor and Cross Country championships can’t win total national championship No. 7 and Outdoor No. 3 national championship in Eugene.
“I think we’d have to have a very productive two days with no errors involved,” Harter said. “if we pull off an upset in one or two of the races unexpectedly then it probably gives us a shot of potentially of winning. I think there are seven teams that could score 40 points or more and we’re in that conversation.”
Events are scored 10 team points for the individual winner, eight for second, six for third, and then 5,4,3,2 and 1 from seventh through eighth.
How many will it take to win the team title?
“Probably 60 or low 60s,” Harter said. “Not as high as what it took for us (68 points) indoors. We have scoring opportunities all the way through the meet. It would be lovely for it to come down to the mile relay and USC and A&M would be very, very competitive as well.”
Arkansas lost a potential when national vault leader Nastassja Campbell couldn’t get untracked and failed to advance in the NCAA West Preliminary Qualifying meet in College Station, Texas.
All others expected to make it to Eugene qualified, Harter said.
“We gave away a bit in the pole vault with Stass not being able to make the final,” Harter said. “She’s the national leader. It’s pretty hard to give a person like that up although (Arkansas teammate) Lauren Martinez always was right on her heels.”
Martinez, and Razorbacks Mackenzie Hayward and NCAA Indoor All-American Bailee McCorkle of Greenwood all are pole vault qualified for Eugene. Long jumper G’Auna Edwards completes the field events contingent.
From the 800 through the 10,000 minus the steeplechase, Harter’s Hogs sport scoring potential from Shafiqua Maloney, 800; Krissy Gear, 1,500, Lauren Gregory, 5,000, and Katie Izzo, 10,000.
Sprints coach Chris Johnson brings a busy, versatile crew.
Tiana Wilson of Hamburg and Jada Baylark of Little Rock Parkview are both qualified in the open 100 and 200 meters and join 100-meter hurdle qualifiers Yoveinny Mota and Jayla Hollis on the 4 x 100 relays.
Daszay Freeman also is 100-meter hurdles qualified.
The 4 x 400 relay, the meet’s last event, features a Razorbacks quartet of Paris Peoples, Morgan Burks-Magee, Maloney, and the ubiquitous Tiana Wilson.
“It would be lovely for us for it to come down to the mile relay,” Harter said. “And USC and A&M would be very, very competitive as well.”
Off finishing 10th in NCAA Cross Country, run in Stillwater, Okla. just two days after Arkansas won the NCAA Indoor in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks are in contention with Brigham Young, seventh indoors and the NCAA Cross Country winner, for the Terry Crawford Award. Named for the retired Texas Women’s track and cross country coach, the Crawford Award honors the best women’s cross country-indoor-outdoor program based on the three NCAA championship meets.