Bucknam’s boys still best of bunch at SEC Indoors

Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014
Members of the Arkansas track & field team celebrate their SEC championship Saturday in College Station, Texas.
Photo by Southeastern Conference
Members of the Arkansas track & field team celebrate their SEC championship Saturday in College Station, Texas.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Another year, another SEC Indoor championship for the Arkansas men’s track and field team.

Despite competing without three of its top athletes, top-ranked Arkansas scored 121 points over the three-day meet to win its 20th SEC Indoor title Saturday since joining the conference in 1992. No. 2 Florida finished second with 106 points, while fourth-ranked Texas A&M finished third with 83.33 points.

“We take great pride in this track meet,” Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. “The SEC is the best conference in the country for track and field. This is absolutely the best track meet in the country, bar none. It’s a big win for our program.”

Arkansas managed to accomplish that without distance runners Stanley Kebenei and Kemoy Campbell and multi-event athlete Kevin Lazas. Kebenei has mononucleosis and Campbell wasn’t fully recovered from an Achilles tendon injury. Lazas, the NCAA champion in the heptathlon, was back home in Brentwood, Tenn., because of family reasons.

It was a significant loss for the Razorbacks after Kebenei and Campbell combined for 31 points at last year’s SEC Indoor meet and Lazas took fourth in the pole vault, but Arkansas took advantage of its scoring opportunities Saturday to hold off Florida and Texas A&M.

“We just competed witha lot of passion and a lot of pride,” Bucknam said. “We talked this morning in our meeting about having a platform and being able to show off and take care of what we can do on that platform and use that as an opportunity to excel at the highest level. These kids stepped in and got it done.”

Arkansas clinched the championship after Solomon Haile and Gabe Gonzalez finished one-two in the 5,000 meters, the first time a Razorback has won the event since 2010. Haile won in 13 minutes, 58.64 seconds and Gonzalez finished in a personal-record13:59.64.

Haile didn’t feel well going into the race but decided after talking with teammates and coaches that he was going to go ahead and try to run. The only thing he felt after the race was joy after breaking through to win his first SEC individual championship.

“It means everything to me and for my team,” Haile said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day since my freshman year. I got second and third place so many times, and it comes at the end of my senior year. I’m more than happy.”

Andrew Irwin came in second in the pole vault with a vault of 18 feet, 2 inches. That height tied Mississippi’s Sam Kendricks, but Kendricks took first place based on fewer misses.

Anthony May claimed another second-place finish for the Razorbacks with a triple jump of 52-2 1/2. Omar McLeod also earned the Razorbacks eight points with a second-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 7.7.

Thomas Squella finished fifth in the 800 meters in 1:50.13, and Cale Wallace and Patrick Rono contributed seven points by finishing fifth and sixth, respectively, in the mile.

It was a full team effort by the Razorbacks.

“That’s by design,” Bucknam said. “We’ve got a great staff in Doug Case and Travis Geopfert. They’re the two best coaches in the country.I’m glad that their mine.”

Arkansas’ women’s team failed to repeat as champions, scoring 93.5 points to finish third behind champion Florida (102) and runner-up Texas A&M (96.5), but the Razorbacks managed several impressive individual performances from their distance team.

Grace Heymsfield won the mile in 4:32.82, rallying from third place on the final turn. Stephanie Brown won the 800 with a personal-record 2:03.21, which ranks second all-time at Arkansas, and Dominique Scott won the 5,000 in 16:00.73

It marked the seventh consecutive year Arkansas’ women have finished among the top three.

SEC Indoor Championships

MEN TEAM PTS. 1. Arkansas ...121 2. Florida .........106 3. Tex. A&M ..83.33 4. Alabama ........76 5. Kentucky ..69.33 WOMEN TEAM PTS. 1. Florida .........102 2. Tex. A&M ...96.5 3. Arkansas ..93.5 4. Kentucky .......72 5. Georgia ......64.5

Sports, Pages 21 on 03/02/2014