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 a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times.
Distance runners strengthen UA's chances
Arkansas' Lauren Gregory crosses the finish line during the distance medley relay Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Two things have stopped the University of Arkansas women’s cross country and track and field teams from winning SEC championships the last nine years.
Florida and covid.
The Gators won the SEC indoor track and field title in 2014 and the outdoor title in 2018.
Covid canceled the 2020 outdoor meet.
Otherwise it’s been all Arkansas since the 2013-14 school year.
The Razorbacks have won 23 of the last 25 SEC meets that have been held, starting with cross country in the fall of 2013.
Arkansas will look to continue its domination of the nation’s best conference — eight SEC teams are ranked in the top 22 of the coaches’ national poll — when the SEC Outdoor Championships are held today through Saturday in Oxford, Miss.
“We’ve kind of worn out our pleasantness I guess,” Razorbacks Coach Lance Harter said. “SEC teams are real tired of Arkansas being at the top and grabbing trophies.
“So there are 13 other schools that would love to see Arkansas get knocked off.”
Three SEC teams are ranked ahead of the No. 5 Razorbacks with No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 3 Florida and No. 4 LSU.
“Florida, A&M and LSU have exceptional teams nationally, but this year they also have great conference teams as well,” Harter said. “So we’re going to have to battle to try to neutralize those three.
“Florida is the defending national indoor champion. They’ve got a lot of pride and they’re running really, really well. LSU almost got us indoors this year as well as outdoors last year. Their team is even better this year than it was last year.
“And then A&M has really gotten a lot of momentum since indoors to have an exceptional team.”
Distance races as usual will be big for the Razorbacks with Lauren Gregory doubling in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters; Krissy Gear in the 1,500 and 3,000-meter steeplechase; Logan Jolly in the steeplechase and 5,000; Isabel Van Camp in the 10,000 and 5,000; and Kennedy Thomson in the 800 and 1,500.
“We’re loading the distances up in order to stay competitive in this meet,” Harter said. “We have to fire on all cylinders.”
Britton Wilson, a second-year freshman who transferred to Arkansas from Tennessee, has the SEC’s top time in the 400-meter hurdles, a school-record 54.37 she ran at the Texas Relays. She also ranks No. 3 in the SEC in the 400 at 54.37 that she ran last week in Fayetteville.
Chris Johnson, who coaches Arkansas’ sprinters, has had Wilson double in the 400 and 400 hurdles the previous two weeks to prepare her to do it at the SEC Championships. Last week she ran 55.41 in the hurdles an hour after winning the 400.
“Chris Johnson has been experimenting with her to see how well she handles [doubling], and if last weekend was any reflection of her ability, she’ll do a fantastic job,” Harter said. “She’s an exceptional talent to say the least.”
Arkansas senior Jada Baylark has the SEC’s top time in the 100 (10.83) and is No. 6 in the 200 (22.92).
The Razorbacks should score well in the pole vault led by SEC Indoor champion Elien Vekemans, Amanda Fassold, Kaitlyn Banas and Mackenzie Hayward.
Arkansas has the SEC’s No. 3 time (3:26.40) in the 1,600 relay, which will be the meet’s last event.
“It very well could come down to the relay,” Harter said.
Harter said it will take scoring more than 100 points to win the meet.
“Every one of those points will be a battle,” he said. “There’s no forgiveness whatsoever. No points will come easy.”
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