Never too early to get on track for NCAAs

By: Nate Allen
Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Arkansas sophomore Jarrion Lawson competes in the long jump during a dual meet against Texas on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas sophomore Jarrion Lawson competes in the long jump during a dual meet against Texas on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Neither the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships nor the NCAA Indoor Championships come to the University of Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Indoor Track this year, which both did last year.

Despite the 2014 SEC Championships set for Feb. 27-March 1 in College Station, Texas, and the NCAA Championships set for March 14-15 in Albuquerque, N.M., Arkansans still can catch a preview of both meets when Arkansas hosts the Razorback Invitational meet Friday night and Saturday afternoon at Randal Tyson.

Five of the meet’s nine men’s teams are ranked among in the national top 10, including the three best from the SEC, Chris Bucknam’s top-ranked and defending SEC and NCAA champion Razorbacks, No. 2 Florida and No. 5 Texas A&M.

Atlantic Coast Conference member Florida State, No. 6, and Big 12 member Oklahoma State, No.10, also will be on hand. The other four men’s teams competing - Stanford, Texas, Oklahoma and Tulsa - aren’t among the top 10, although Stanford, Texas and Oklahoma usually are and still feature individuals capable of winning NCAA titles in Albuquerque.

On the women’s side, five of the nine teams are ranked among the top 10, including Big 12 member Texas (No. 2), SEC powers Texas A&M (No. 3), Florida (No. 4) and reigning SEC Indoor champion Arkansas (No. 7), Pacific-12 member Stanford (No. 9) plus unranked but still individually talented teams representing Florida State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Tulsa.

Apparently fans get a “twofer” with pressure mounting for athletes to establish best times and marks capable of holding up as NCAA Indoor Championship qualifiers while team scores also will be kept scoring each event’s top eight places just like the NCAA and SEC championship meets.

“You can kill two birds with one stone,” Bucknam said.

To do so, the stone indeed must be well aimed.

The NCAA no longer counts toward NCAA Championship qualifying the best performances in what used to be called “last chance invitationals” following conference meets. Automatic and provisional qualifying standards also have been eradicated.

Only those with the top 16 national performances in each event by the end of their conference meet advance to Albuquerque. So coaches now prefer their athletes muster one huge performance early even while sweating right through their conference meets to know for sure if they advance to Albuquerque.

“It’s a little unnerving knowing you don’t have that safety valve with no last chance qualifying meet,” Bucknam said. “This early in the season you don’t want a sense of panic, but there is more of a sense of urgency going into this weekend.” There would seem no greater urgency than the SEC meet, but winning a conference team championship often places quantity over quality.

“It’s hard to run qualifying times at conference because everybody is doubling trying to help the team out,” Arkansas women’s Coach Harter said. “The plan is we have all of our ducks in a row when we get to the SEC meet.”

Sports, Pages 14 on 01/29/2014