Razorbacks aim for NCAA crowns on home track

By: Bob Holt
Published: Thursday, March 11, 2021
Arkansas' Katie Izzo leads a pack of runners during the Arkansas Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
( Walt Beazley, Arkansas Razorbacks )
Arkansas' Katie Izzo leads a pack of runners during the Arkansas Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, at Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Two weeks after the University of Arkansas women’s and men’s indoor track and field teams swept titles at the SEC Championships at home, they’ll try to do it again this weekend on the national level.

Both Arkansas teams are contenders at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, which begin today and run through Saturday night at the Randal Tyson Track Center.

The Arkansas women, who won the SEC title by 60 points over runner-up Florida 141-81, are ranked No. 1 and have won all six of their indoor meets this season.

The Arkansas men, who scored 116 points to win the SEC title with LSU in second at 93, are ranked No. 3.

“We’ve had such a great season, and winning SECs by that huge margin, I think that got us even more excited to see what we can do on the national stage,” said Arkansas senior Katie Izzo, among the favorites in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the NCAA championships. “We’re just super pumped and blessed to have the team that we do.

“This is going to be my only indoor national meet. I’m ready to lay it all out there and have no regrets.”

The Texas A&M women’s team finished eighth at the SEC championships with 57 points, but the Aggies are ranked No. 2 nationally. Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said they are a real threat to his Razorbacks.

“Texas A&M actually is the team to beat,” Harter said. “Their points that were so solid at the SEC meet are the same at the NCAA meet.”

The Aggies have national leaders in four events with Tyra Gattens in the pentathlon and high jump, Athing Mu in the 400 and their 1,600 relay team.

“Texas A&M could score 40 points in those four events alone, and I think they can score 60 points for the meet pretty comfortably,” Harter said. “That’s a hard number to get, really hard.

“Now, they’ve still got to go out and do it.”

Harter, who led Arkansas to NCAA indoor titles in 2015 and 2019, said he’s confident his team will compete well, but that those making the Razorbacks a heavy favorite because of the their 25 entries aren’t seeing the total picture.

“We have entries in 13 of the 17 events, but we’ve got some people who barely made it into their events,” Harter said. “Some will have to step up really big to even make the final and be in a scoring position.”

Arkansas has some high-ranking potential scorers with Izzo, Krissy Gear in the mile, Lauren Gregory in the 3,000, and its 1,600 and distance medley relays.

“We’ve had the ability to win every meet we’ve put on at home,” said Gear, who will run on the distance medley relay. “So it kind of takes the pressure off of, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go out and do something special. I have to run out of my mind.’

“That instills a lot of confidence to just keep doing what we’ve been doing, and the results and the points will come.”

The Arkansas men’s team is ranked behind No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 LSU.

“Oregon is clearly the team to beat, but it’s not a slam dunk for them,” Razorbacks men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “I think LSU is right behind them, and we’re knocking on that door, too.

“We’ve just got to do our job and not worry about what everybody else is doing.”

Arkansas has 18 entries, its most since having 19 in 2013 when the Razorbacks won the NCAA indoor title under Bucknam.

Amon Kemboi is the national leader in the 5,000 for the Razorbacks, and Gilbert Boit ranks No. 3 in the event. Both will double in the 3,000.

Arkansas is ranked No. 6 in the 1,600 relay, but Bucknam said he’s hopeful Jeremy Farr — the Razorbacks’ top 400 runner — will be able to compete on the relay after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Markus Ballengee ranks No. 3 in the heptathlon for Arkansas.

“I think one of the biggest things for us is we’re seeded third, but anything can happen,” Ballengee said. “If we all show up on the day, we can walk away with the team title.

“If we do our best in our individual events, then it’ll come together for us as a team. I think it’s more about seizing the moment.”

There are 16 entries in each event with eight places scoring.

“Anybody is capable of scoring,” Bucknam said. “There’s a real small margin between first and 16th place in all these events.”

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