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.
It’s same old story: UA, Florida favored indoors
Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam watches during the Razorback Invitational Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Two weeks ago Arkansas’ men’s track and field team beat Florida to win the SEC Indoor Championship in College Station, Texas.
This weekend the Razorbacks and Gators will go at it again in Albuquerque, N.M., at the NCAA indoor meet.
Florida will be trying to win its fourth national championship in five years. The Gators had their three-year title streak stopped last year when they finished second to Arkansas, which was second to Florida in 2012.
The Gators have finished second to the Razorbacks in five of the past six SEC indoor meets. When Florida won the SEC title in 2011, Arkansas was second.
“It’s a great rivalry we have going with Florida, and it’s getting stronger each season,” Razorbacks Coach Chris Bucknam said. “I love it. It’s great for the sport, great for the SEC and great for our program.”
Arkansas was ranked No. 1 nationally for the entire indoor season until the latest coaches’ poll, when it fell to No. 2 while Florida rose to No. 1, despite the Razorbacks’ victory at the SEC meet.
Bucknam said coaches don’t vote on the poll, that it’s determined by computer rankings, and Florida moved up to No. 1 after Gators junior Dedric Dukes won the 200 meters at the SEC meet in a national-leading time of 20.55.
“That we’re ranked No. 2 now doesn’t faze us,” Bucknam. “We’re just focused on scoring enough points to win the NCAA title.”
The Razorbacks have 10 individuals and two relays competing at the meet with a total 13 combined scoring chances.
Senior Kevin Lazas, the defending NCAA champion in the heptathlon, is back with the team after missing the SEC meet to be with his family after his older brother, Donald, was killed in a car accident.
“It’s great therapy for Kevin to be back with his team and practicing and do what he loves to do,” Bucknam said.“I’m not saying he’s 100 percent back - it was a pretty rough time for him and his family - but I expect him to compete well, because that’s what he does.”
Arkansas junior Andrew Irwin, who was slowed by a groin injury earlier in the season, will go for his third consecutive NCAA indoor pole vault title.
The Razorbacks also expect to score well in the long jump, where senior Raymond Higgs and sophomore Jarrion Lawson are ranked second and fifth. Freshman Omar McLeod, ranked ninth in the 60-meter hurdles, has recovered from a leg injury, Bucknam said.
Senior All-American distance runners Kemoy Campbell (foot) and Stanley Kebenei (illness) will miss the NCAA meet. They weren’t available for the SEC meet,either.
“I still think we have the firepower to win it,” Bucknam said. “I don’t think any other team could survive losing two stars like we did for the indoor season and still talk about winning the national title. That’s a credit to our team, it’s a credit to our coaches and it’s a credit to our DNA, I guess you could say.”
While Arkansas is the defending NCAA indoor champion, Bucknam said what he’s most aware of is that since winning that title, the Razorbacks finished third at the NCAA outdoor meet and 12th at cross country nationals.
“It seems like a lifetime since we won that title indoors,” Bucknam said. “You’re only as good as your last national meet.”
Arkansas’ women’s team, ranked seventh nationally after finishing third at the SEC meet behind Florida and Texas A&M, will be led by freshman sprinter Regine Williams, junior distance runner Dominique Scott and senior distance runners Grace Heymsfield and Stephanie Brown.
Williams is ranked fourth nationally in the 200 and will run in the 60 and on the 400 relay.
“Regine’s going to be pretty tired by the end of the meet, but she’s been carrying a heavy workload all season,” Razorbacks Coach Lance Harter said. “She kind of thrives on it.”
Scott and Heymsfield are ranked fourth and ninth in the 3,000, while Brown is ranked ninth in the mile. All three also run on Arkansas’ fourth-ranked distance medley relay team along with senior Chrishuna Williams.
Track and field
NCAA INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
WHEN Today and Saturday
WHERE Albuquerque, N.M.
Arkansas, Florida, Texas A&M, Wisconsin and Oregon
Florida, Oregon, Texas A&M, Georgia and Texas
Sports, Pages 21 on 03/14/2014