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 and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Razorbacks return to site of NCAA meet
Arkansas' Britton Wilson is shown during the Arkansas Invitational on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The last time the University of Arkansas men’s and women’s track and field teams were getting ready for a meet in Albuquerque, N.M., it never started.
The Razorbacks were going through warmups in the Albuquerque Convention Center on March 12, 2020, the day before the NCAA Indoor Championships were scheduled to start.
Then came the announcement that NCAA President Mark Emmert had canceled the meet — along with all remaining winter and spring national championship events — because of health concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus.
“I remember rumors flying around, all the basketball tournaments getting canceled,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “We’re thinking, ‘We’re already here in Albuquerque, let’s hope nothing happens to the meet.’ ”
It turned out no more college track and field meets were held until January of 2021.
Bucknam had been timing distance runner Cameron Griffith doing 200-meter runs when the 2020 NCAA meet was canceled.
“I clicked my stop watch on the last rep of the day and Cam had run 26.5 seconds,” Bucknam said. “I literally didn’t use the stop watch until the beginning of the next indoor season.
“When I got it out that following January, it still read 26.5 seconds.”
Arkansas is among more than 35 colleges in Albuquerque this weekend for the New Mexico Collegiate Classic. More than 1,500 athletes will be competing, according to New Mexico’s track and field website.
The meet is drawing a huge field because the Albuquerque Convention Center will host the 2023 NCAA Indoor Championships on March 10-11.
Competing today and Saturday at the New Mexico Collegiate Classic gives athletes a chance to get used to the facility and its new track surface before the NCAA meet.
“Hopefully they won’t kick us out this time,” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said, managing a chuckle.
Arkansas’ women’s team is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll after a strong showing in last weekend’s Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville at the Randal Tyson Center.
“I think what’s happened this year as far as the national rankings go, it’s basically by descending marks,” Harter said. “So we had a harvest of points over the weekend. That accumulation is how they’re ranking teams.”
The top five of the women’s poll also includes No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Oregon.
“I just hope that as the weeks go on, and we get more and more of our athletes in their primary events, we can try to secure that [No. 1] position,” Harter said.
Arkansas’ men’s team is ranked No. 3 behind No. 1 Washington and No. 2 Texas Tech. The top five also includes No. 4 Tennessee and No. 5 Georgia.
“We still have some guys that are going to compete for the the first time this season coming up this weekend,” Bucknam said. “But it’s good that we’re ranked third, and hopefully we’ll have some good performances this weekend and go from there.
“As we all know, it’s that final ranking at the end of the year that counts. But we’re not going to scoff at [being ranked No. 3 right now].
“We’re glad we’re getting some national recognition. It motivates our guys a little bit to know we’re one of the better teams in the country.”
Other colleges competing in Albuquerque this weekend along with host New Mexico and Arkansas are LSU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, USC, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Iowa, TCU, Miami, Kansas State, California and Colorado.
Bucknam and Harter both stressed the importance of the Razorbacks getting familiar with the facility that will host the NCAA meet.
“Every track, all the runways, they’re all a little bit different, have a little bit different feel,” Bucknam said. “Maybe some tracks and runways are stiffer, some are bouncier. You need to get used to the starting blocks and the high jump apron, all those technical things make a difference.”
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