Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Lazas takes step forward
Senior posted strong qualifying score in opener
Kevin Lazas launches the shot put as he competes in the decathlon during the Arkansas Team Invitational on April 27, 2013 at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas track coach Chris Bucknam said he saw Kevin Lazas grow up last week.
That's saying something for an athlete who won the national championship in the heptathlon a year ago indoors and finished third place in the event this year. Lazas, a senior, is the Razorbacks' most well-rounded multi-event athlete and competes in the decathlon outdoors.
At the Texas Relays last week he struggled the first day, entering the second day of the meet in ninth place overall. But Lazas rallied to have a personal-best second day in the event to finish second to BYU's Chase Dalton with 7,592 points, a mark that is likely to qualify him for the national meet in June.
"I've never had a worse day one," Lazas said. "Mentally, especially in the decathlon, it's hard to have everything perfect and easy to get upset when things don't go like you have planned. Nothing went as I had planned or like I wanted to on day one.
"I just put the events behind me each step and coming into day two I just told myself I was going to attack each event, that day one was in the past and there was nothing I could do about it. I came out and had the fastest opener I've ever had in the hurdles and I had an outdoor PR in the vault. I finally learned to let things go and I think that's going to be huge down the road."
Lazas competed in the decathlon earlier than he ever had, making the transition outside less than two weeks after his third-place finish in the heptathlon at the NCAAs indoor. The objective for the early start - for the senior to post a strong national-qualifying mark - was achieved.
"It just felt right," Bucknam said. "He's got a great national qualifying mark in now and that should get him into the national meet. Now he doesn't have to worry about qualifying and can start focusing on his individual events. We wanted to get him in a good position to win the national title in the decathlon.
"His timing was off on a bunch of different things (at Texas), which is understandable, but for him to rebound on the second day and have his personal-best in those final five events was pretty impressive."
Unlike last year, Lazas is healthy entering the outdoor season which should help once the championship meets roll around. He missed the first five weeks of training last year outdoors because of a pulled groin and finished eighth place at the national meet in part because of the injury.
"I hadn't done workouts in five weeks so I had to basically start all over," Lazas said. "I thought I was ready for nationals last year…but about a week and a half before I hurt my elbow and had to get stitches. That kind of messed me up a little bit.
"I had such a high indoors and coming into outdoors came way down from what my goal was and what I wanted to do. Indoors this year didn't go as well as I hoped, so I have tons of energy, motivation and drive to achieve the best I can. I won an indoor title last year so I really want to get an outdoor one this year."
Now Lazas will spend the next two months training for the national meet. He isn't likely to compete in the decathlon at the SEC Championships, where Arkansas is once again the favorite this season.
Lazas will instead focus on some individual events in the meets for the rest of the outdoor season. That includes a relay during Saturday's Arkansas Spring Invitational at John McDonnell Field.
"The real goal is nationals and SEC," Lazas said. "All these other meets I'm going to treat as practices."
The Razorbacks are No. 1 in the latest outdoor poll. From a depth perspective, Lazas said this team reminds him of the indoor squad that won the NCAA championship his junior year.
"I think we are stronger than we've ever been before," Lazas said. "We have four returning individual national championships from the indoor: Omar McLeod in the hurdles, Jarrion Lawson in the long jump, Andrew Irwin in pole vault and myself. Our 4x400 is always up there and we've got real good long jumpers and high jumpers that are always in the mix.
"Our team is just well-rounded and we have someone in almost every single event, which at the national level will put us up there with most people if we do well. I think we have a real good shot - better than any year in the past."