Arkansas track fills a vacancy, hosts national meet

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Arkansas' John Winn competes in the 4x400-meter relay Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, during the Tyson Invitational in the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' John Winn competes in the 4x400-meter relay Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, during the Tyson Invitational in the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's relays weekend in the United States.

The Penn Relays, which started in 1895, are being held in Philadelphia. The Drake Relays, which started in 1910, are being held in Des Moines, Iowa.

At a Glance

NATIONAL RELAYS CHAMPIONSHIPS

WHEN Friday and Saturday. Field events 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and running events 3 p.m.-7 p.m. Friday. Field events 10 a.m.-7 p.m. and running events 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.

WHERE John McDonnell Field, Fayetteville

TV SEC Network 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Saturday.

Saturday Night Live

Ten relay events — five each for men and women — will be run Saturday night at the National Relays Championships hosted by Arkansas. This portion of the meet will be televised live on the SEC Network:

7 P.M. Women’s 400

7:10 P.M. Men’s 400

7:20 P.M. Women’s 3,200

7:35 P.M. Men’s 3,200

7:45 P.M. Women’s 800

7:55 P.M. Men’s 800

8:05 P.M. Women’s distance medley

8:20 P.M. Men’s distance medley

8:35 P.M. Women’s 1,600

8:45 P.M. Men’s 1,600

Another major relays meet will make its debut this weekend at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

The Arkansas men's and women's track and field teams will host the inaugural National Relays Championship on Friday and Saturday at John McDonnell Field.

"It's something a little bit different, but an idea we've had for a couple years now and it's coming to fruition," Arkansas men's Coach Chris Bucknam said. "So we're going to give it a shot and see how it works.

"We hope it becomes an annual event and we can host it every year."

Arkansas' teams have competed at Drake and Penn numerous times previously, but those events have lost some interest for the Razorbacks with their heavy focus on high school and professional athletes.

"What we're having here is a collegiate-centered meet going into the championship season," Bucknam said. "We're excited to have high-caliber teams from all over coming into Fayetteville.

"We feel like we're filling a void in making the college teams the focus this weekend. It also gives us an opportunity to bring a major national meet to Fayetteville and showcase our facilities and our university."

Fifteen teams from Power 5 conferences are joining Arkansas.

SEC teams include Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. The field also features Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Atlantic Coast Conference; Texas, Baylor, TCU, Kansas and Oklahoma State from the Big 12; Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin from the Big Ten; and Stanford from the Pac-12.

"Drake and Penn make their money on the high schools, so obviously they need to get some priority time for those events," Arkansas women's Coach Lance Harter said. "In our situation, it'll be college teams only in head-to-head competition.

"I think it could be a highlight event across the United States."

The idea for the National Relays came from the World Championship Relays, which have been held in the Bahamas since 2014 in non-Olympic years and bring together international teams for competition.

"We're modeling our event after the World Relays, but as a showcases for the colleges," Bucknam said. "We hope teams will be knocking on the door to get in the meet every year."

The SEC Network will televise the National Relays live from 7-9 p.m. Saturday when teams will run the 400, 3,200, 800, distance medley and 1,600 relays.

There will be a full schedule of running and field events from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, and field events from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Two relays that run on Friday night will be the 6,000 and and sprint medley.

"I think it's a really cool idea, and I hope it goes well," Arkansas senior Jack Bruce, who will run a leg on the 6,000 relay, said of the National Relays. "I like the fact we're hosting it.

"I've never had a chance to run in a really big, marquee event like this at home. It's got a lot of potential for sure."

Jada Baylark, who earlier this season tied Veronica Campbell Brown's Arkansas school record by running 11.10 seconds in the 100, will be on the 400 and 1,600 relays this weekend.

"We've gone against these big teams, so we know what to expect," said Baylark, a sophomore from Little Rock Parkview. "But having the meet here adds a little bit. We'll probably run faster and jump higher."

Razorbacks senior sprinter Kenzo Cotton, a 16-time All-American, said Arkansas has hosted plenty of big-time meets indoors, but he's glad for a strong field outdoors this weekend.

"It'll be the biggest home outdoor meet we've had since I've been here," Cotton said. "We need that kind of competition, because you can't just go to SECs without having run against big-shots."

A highlight among the field events will be the women's pole vault at 5 p.m. Saturday. Vaulters with the top three marks nationally will compete: Virginia Tech freshman Lisa Gunnarsson, and Arkansas juniors Lexi Jacobus and Tori Hoggard, twin sisters from Cabot.

"I'm so excited for this weekend to have so many really big teams coming in," Jacobus said. "To bring something like that here and be a part of it all is awesome. It looks like we're going to have some great weather, so I think some big bars will be jumped."

Gunnarsson, from Sweden, had the top mark among collegians at the Texas Relays at 15 feet, 1 inch to beat Jacobus (14-11) and Hoggard (14-9). Those marks remain the top three nationally.

Jacobus is a two-time NCAA champion and competed in the 2016 Olympics for the United States. Hoggard is a five-time All-American.

"I had the best outdoor season opener I've had in three years, so it was a good meet and I'm happy about what I jumped," Jacobus said of the Texas Relays. "But at the same time, [Gunnarsson] beat me.

"So especially at home, I don't want her to beat me again. It's definitely going to be some stiff competition and I'm looking forward to it."

Sports on 04/25/2018

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