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.
Bucknam: No room for errors
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam watches during the Razorback Invitational Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ No. 1-ranked men’s track and field team will be without three senior All-Americans when the Razorbacks go for their 20th SEC Indoor title this weekend in College Station, Texas.
Distance runners Stanley Kebenei and Kemoy Campbell and multievent athlete Kevin Lazas won’t be competing. Kebenei has mononucleosis, Campbell isn’t fully recovered from an Achilles tendon injury and Lazas has gone home to Brentwood, Tenn., because of family reasons.
Kebenei, Campbell and Lazas combined for 31 points at last year’s SEC Indoor meet, which the Razorbacks won with 152.5 points while Florida was second with 117. Kebenei was second in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, Campbell was third in the 3,000 and fourth in the mile and Lazas - the NCAA champion in the heptathlon - took fourth in the pole vault.
SEC Indoor Championships
WHERE College Station, Texas
WHEN Today through Saturday
MEN’S DEFENDING CHAMPION Arkansas
WOMEN’S DEFENDING CHAMPION Arkansas
MEN’S CONTENDERS No. 1 Arkansas, No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Texas A&M
WOMEN’S CONTENDERS No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas A&M, No. 4 Arkansas
“Three pretty good guys that aren’t going to be with us this weekend,” Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. “It really puts a dent in our capabilities to score points.
“We’ll have to see if we can circle the wagons and get the job done.”
Bucknam said he still expects Arkansas to compete at a high level at the SEC meet, which begins today and runs through Saturday.
“I absolutely think that we’re in contention to win this meet,” he said. “That’s why we have a diverse team. That’s why we have, I think, a great coaching staff.
“Our kids understand what’s at stake. We’ll battle through it.”
Florida is ranked No. 2 nationally and Texas A&M is No. 3.
“It’s going to be a close meet now, and we’re going to have to realize that,” Bucknam said. “So it’s going to be real important for our athletes not to look at the scoreboard, not to focus on anything but the job at hand.
“We’ll look at the scoreboard as we get to the last couple of events. But up until that point, you can’t predict what’s going to happen. All I can predict is that I think it’s going to be a close meet. I think it’s going to be a real close meet.”
Arkansas will be led by pole vaulter Andrew Irwin, a two-time NCAA champion; long jumpers Raymond Higgs and Jarrion Lawson, who rank first and fourth nationally; middle-distance runners Patrick Rono and Tomas Squella;and sprinters Neil Braddy and Omar McLeod.
Bucknam said distance runners Solomon Haile and Gabe Gonzalez will double in the 3,000 and 5,000 in the absence of Kebenei and Campbell. Haile was third at the SEC cross country meet last fall and at last year’s SEC Indoor meet took fourth in the 5,000 and seventh in the 3,000.
“Solomon’s a senior, he’s been an All-American for us, he’s scored a ton of SEC points,” Bucknam said. “I can’t remember a time when Solomon wasn’t an All-SEC performer in any of his races. He’s a capable athlete that can run up there with the leaders.”
Gonzalez, a junior from Springdale, transferred to Arkansas from Kansas. He was 10th at the SEC cross country meet last fall.
“Gabe has really come on this year,” Bucknam said. “He’s made huge progress.”
Bucknam said he got a good sense of the Razorbacks’ resolve after a team meeting Monday.
“I went around to a few of our leaders and asked if, ‘Hey, what’s the feel?’ ” Bucknam said. “They said, ‘Coach, we know we’ve got to step up.’
“We’ve got some great competitors. They lead by example, and they realize they’re going to have to do something special if we’re going to win this meet.”
Bucknam said he hasn’t given much thought to how many points teams like Florida and Texas A&M may take away from each other in the meet. Eight SEC teams are ranked in the top 25.
“Maybe there’s some adversity happening with some other schools, too, that I don’t know about,” Bucknam said. “It all seems to come out in the end the way it should. We’ll just go in there and try to get it done.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/27/2014