Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
TRACK AND FIELD:
UA squads gear up for nationals
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas men's track and field coach Chris Bucknam watches from the edge of the track Saturdray, Jan. 26, 2013, during the Razorback Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks will host the Tyson Invitational this weekend.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas’ No. 1-ranked men’s track and field team and No. 4 women’s team will get their final tuneups before the SEC Indoor Championships when the Razorbacks host the Tyson Invitational this weekend at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
More than 40 colleges will have athletes competing, including seven of the top 25 men’s teams and 10 of the top 25 women’s teams. There will be 29 athletes who finished among the top three in their events at the NCAA meet last year.
Tyson Invitational events will be held in two sessions today, starting at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday’s field events start at 11 a.m. with running events at 1 p.m.
“It’s a roller coaster,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said of the indoor season. “I think we’re in a pretty good spot, but there’s a lot of work before the SEC meet. We’re juggling a lot of balls right now. We’re looking at the NCAA and also at this SEC meet, with another track power [No. 3 Texas A&M] coming into the conference for the first time.”
Arkansas will host the SEC meet Feb. 23-24 and the NCAA meet March 8-9.
Coaches want to keep their athletes fresh for the SEC meet, but also make sure the elite performances are in the NCAA field, which this year is determined by the top 16 in the national rankings rather than by automatic qualifying marks.
“We try to upgrade each and every week, as far as the level of competition ultimately to prepare us to the SEC meet and the NCAA meet,” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said. “We want to make sure we hit every major competitor that we possibly can.”
Both the Arkansas men’s and women’s teams have sent small contingents of distance runners to compete at the Husky Invitational in Seattle to take advantage of Washington’s over sized track which is conducive to fast times in the longer races, but most of the Razorbacks will be competing at the Tyson Invitational.
Among the Arkansas men’s top competitors will be junior Raymond Higgs, No. 1 nationally in the long jump at 26 feet, 1 inch; senior Tarik Batchelor, No. 2 in the triple jump at 53-81/2; sophomore pole vaulter Andrew Irwin, No. 4 at 17-5; and senior Akheem Gauntlett, No. 5 in both the 200 and 400 meters at 20.84 seconds and 46.44.
Arkansas’ women’s team is led by senior Regina George,who ranks No. 1 nationally in the 400 at 52.26. She has continued to run the top time on a weekly basis.
“The way she’s training right now, I don’t see what would stop her,” Harter said. “She rises to the level of competition, and the competition isn’t going to get any better.So I think she can handle whatever the challenge may be.”
Visiting men’s teams in the top 25 are No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 LSU, No. 11 Texas, No. 12 Mississippi State, No. 17 Florida State and No. 23 Oklahoma. Top-ranked Kansas’ women’s team is in the field along with No. 3 LSU, No. 5 Oregon, No. 9 Central Florida, No. 14 Texas, No. 18 Indiana State, No. 19 Baylor, No. 20 South Carolina, No. 21 Florida State and No. 25 Auburn.
WHERE Randal Tyson Track Center, Fayetteville
WHEN Today and Saturday. There will be two sessions today, beginning at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. Field events begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and running events start at 1 p.m.
WHO More than 40 colleges competing. Men’s field includes No. 1 Arkansas, No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 LSU and No. 11 Texas.
Women’s field includes No. 1 Kansas, No. 3 LSU, No. 4 Arkansas and No. 5 Oregon.
ADMISSION $5. Free to children 17 younger and UA students.
Sports, Pages 21 on 02/08/2013