Hogs look for final jewel to another Triple Crown

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014
Indiana State's Greggmar Swift, left, collides with Arkansas' Omar McCleod at the finish line of the university men's 110-meter hurdles during the Drake Relays athletics meet, Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. Swift finished in second place and McLeod third. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Indiana State's Greggmar Swift, left, collides with Arkansas' Omar McCleod at the finish line of the university men's 110-meter hurdles during the Drake Relays athletics meet, Saturday, April 26, 2014, in Des Moines, Iowa. Swift finished in second place and McLeod third. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' men's track and field team is going for another SEC Triple Crown, this time in horse racing country.

The Razorbacks will try to win their third consecutive Triple Crown -- cross country, indoor and outdoor conference titles in the same school year -- when the SEC Outdoor Championships are held today through Sunday in Lexington, Ky., which is home to numerous horse farms as well as the University of Kentucky.

SEC OUTDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS

WHEN Today through Sunday

WHERE Lexington, Ky.

TEAM FAVORITES Men: Arkansas, Florida, Texas A&M, LSU. Women: Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Arkansas

DEFENDING CHAMPION Men: Arkansas. Women: Texas A&M

NOTEWORTHY Arkansas’ men’s team has won 18 of 22 SEC Outdoor meets since joining the conference.

Arkansas has won the past nine SEC meets going back to the 2011 outdoor title, which came a year after the Razorbacks tied with Mississippi State for seventh with 64 points -- 60 behind 2010 outdoor champion Florida -- during Chris Bucknam's second year as coach.

"All seemed lost back in 2010, but we bounced back from seventh to first the next year, and we haven't given up an outdoor title since then," Bucknam said. "We have a culture of competing really hard and stepping up.

"I would assume we'll do the same thing again this weekend. The streak we've put together is kind of impressive when you look at the power rankings nationally."

Arkansas is ranked No. 4 nationally, but that's third among SEC teams behind No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas A&M.

"I firmly believe we've had the best track team in the country for the last three years," Bucknam said. "It's a testament to our athletes and my coaches."

Arkansas will be bolstered by the return of senior All-American distance runner Stanley Kebeneni, who missed the indoor season because of mononucleosis. Kebenei will run the 3,000-meter steeplechase and is available for the 5,000.

"Stanley brings that extra punch we need," Bucknam said. "He's certainly an elite athlete approaching world-class status in the steeplechase. He's a good one to have back in the fold."

Razorbacks junior pole vaulter Andrew Irwin will be going for his third consecutive SEC outdoor title. Other key performers for Arkansas are freshman Omar McLeod (110 and 400 hurdles), senior Patrick Rono (800 and 1,500), senior Anthony May (high, long and triple jumps), senior Raymond Higgs (long and triple jumps), junior Solomon Haile (5,000 and 10,000) and sophomore Jarrion Lawson (long jump).

"The SEC titles are a top priority for us, but we also feel like we're in the mix for a national title," Bucknam said. "But that will only happen if our guys are healthy and rested and ready to go.

"We'll try to manage it the best we can and not to over-work our guys at the expense of the national championships. You only have so many fights in you. It's a very delicate balance."

Arkansas' women's team will be led at the SEC meet by its running crew of seniors Stephanie Brown (800 and 1,500) and Grace Heymsfield (steeplechase and 5,000), and juniors Dominique Scott (5,000 and 10,000) and Diane Robison (5,000 and 10,000).

The Razorbacks also will be counting on big points in the pole vault from seniors Sandi Morris and Danielle Nowell.

"I think we're a contender as much as anybody is," Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said. "We have to harvest a lot of points in our strength areas and then hope our opponents teams cut themselves up in the other events."

The Razorbacks, trying to win their first conference outdoor title since 2004, are ranked No. 8 nationally, but that's sixth among SEC teams behind No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Texas A&M, No. 5 Georgia, No. 6 Kentucky and No. 7 LSU.

"This is the most stacked the SEC is has been in every event," Harter said. "There are no easy points anywhere."

Sports on 05/15/2014

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