Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in documentary film.
Indoor Track & Field:
No. 1 Hogs hold off Texas in opener
NWA Media/MICHAEL WOODS --01/11/2013-- Arkansas runner Akheem Gauntlett tries to keep the lead entering the final lap in the Mens 4x400 relay at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam wanted to challenge his top-ranked team out of the gate in the indoor season.
The No. 1 Razorbacks passed their first test Friday night, defeating No. 3 Texas 85-78 in a season-opening dual meet for both teams at Randal Tyson Track Center.
"It is satisfying," Bucknam said. "You have to be good when things aren't going your way. We had a bunch of distance runners who didn't run tonight, so we looked a little weak there, but we have some talent.
"Things weren't perfect. We didn't have our A-team in and didn't show every card we had, and yet we were still able to match the number three team in the country and beat them."
Arkansas' men beat Texas 85-78
The Razorbacks are ranked No. 1, the Longhorns are No. 3
Arkansas' women beat Oklahoma State 81-61
Arkansas clinched the win with a 1-2 finish in the pole vault, led by defending NCAA indoor champion Andrew Irwin. The sophomore cleared 17 feet, 0.75 inches with no misses. Kevin Lazas also cleared the same height for the Razorbacks.
"He's a star," Bucknam said of Irwin. "You need stars to win at the highest level. He's going to jump high for us. We had the meet won and didn't want to go for anything higher."
Needing only one of its multiple teams to cross the finish line to win the meet, the Razorbacks' defending national champion 4x400 relay team crossed the line first in the final event with a time of 3 minutes, 12.37 seconds.
Arkansas led by five points with five events remaining, but Texas reclaimed the lead in the distance races as the Razorbacks sat several runners. The Longhorns staked a 1-point advantage by claiming the top five spots in the 3,000 meters, led by Craig Lutz, who finished with a NCAA-leading time of 8 minutes, 15.20 seconds.
Texas added to its lead when Arkansas was unable to finish the distance medley relay because of an injury to Leo Momoh in the second leg of the race, but the Razorbacks tied the Longhorns with a 1-2 finish in the triple jump.
Raymond Higgs finished first in the triple jump and long jump for Arkansas. Higgs' long jump of 26 feet, 1 inch is a NCAA-best this year.
"Raymond was not in his full approach, so he wasn't carrying the speed he will be later in the year," Bucknam said. "It's a safety valve thing we do and he was still able to get enough velocity to have a nation-leading jump."
Arkansas' women also opened the season Friday with a meet against Oklahoma State in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks, ranked No. 7 in the preseason, outscored the Lady Cowboys 81-61.
Senior sprinter Gwendolyn Flowers won indicator races in the 60 and 300 meters with times of 7.63 seconds and 38.49 seconds, respectively. Arkansas held out a pair of Olympians in the sprints, senior Regina George (Nigeria) and junior college transfer Sparkle McKnight (Trinidad & Tobago).
"Those weren't NCAA events, but they help us predict the future," UA women's coach Lance Harter said. "She's surrounded by Olympians. It gives us a fresh look and gives us a great mile relay. Two months from now when we host the NCAA championships here, we want to look good and the mile relay has been one of our mainstays."
In field events, Arkansas sophomore Tamara Myers won the long jump (42 feet, 6 inches) and triple jump (20 feet, 0.25 inches). Both marks were personal bests.
"Those are events where you can make a lot of impact at the SEC," Harter said. "That was kind of unexpected. Some of these young ones that have been here for a year or two are starting to catch on and catch fire."
Both Arkansas teams will return to the track next Saturday with a meet at Texas A&M. The Razorback Team Invitational will be held Jan. 25-26 in Fayetteville.