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.
Arkansas track continues winning ways
Arkansas athletes celebrate, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, following the Razorbacks’ championship sweep at the Southeastern Conference 2023 Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — As the Arkansas men’s and women’s track and field teams celebrated their latest SEC championships and called the Hogs on Saturday at the Randal Tyson Center, blue- and gold-colored streamers fell all around them.
Blue and gold are what the SEC uses for its logo and events because none of its 14 member schools — and soon to be 16 with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas in the fall of 2024 — have those as their primary colors.
But given the Razorbacks’ rich tradition of winning titles in cross country and indoor and outdoor track, perhaps the SEC should consider having red — Cardinal if you want to be technical — and white streamers ready for celebrations.
The Arkansas women, led by victories by senior Lauren Gregory in the mile and 3,000 meters and junior Amanda Fassold in the pole vault, won their ninth consecutive SEC Indoor title and 13th overall with 130.5 points with Florida second with 84.
Arkansas’ men, led by victories in the heptathlon by junior Ayden Owens-Delerme in the heptathlon and freshman Jaydon Hibbert in the triple jump, won a fourth consecutive SEC Indoor title and 26th overall with 101.25 points. Florida got another distant second-place finish with 73 points.
The SEC Indoor Championships marked the 33rd time since Arkansas joined the conference in the fall of 1991 the Razorbacks have swept men’s and women’s titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track at the same meet.
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It started in Arkansas’ first SEC competition at the 1991 cross country meet in Athens, Ga., when the Razorbacks men’s and women’s teams swept titles.
For the men’s program, it was the 18th consecutive conference cross country title under Coach John McDonnell after the Razorbacks won their final 17 meets in the Southwest Conference.
For Arkansas’ women, it was only the second conference championship along with the 1988 SWC cross country meet they won — and it was their first title under Coach Lance Harter, who replaced Bev Lewis in 1990 when she took over as women’s athletic director.
Arkansas’ men also had dominated the SWC in track and field with 20 indoor and outdoor titles from 1979-91, but the women didn’t win a title — with the first SWC meet for women in 1983 — before leaving for the SEC.
“When we [won the SEC title] the first time, Coach Mac was so emotional about it,” Harter said. “For him it was just commonplace, but when the women came up and complemented that, it made him feel really, really good.”
On Saturday night Harter’s Razorbacks won their 44th SEC title.
“I remember telling Bev, ‘I think going to the SEC is not a good idea,’ ” Harter said with a chuckle. “Well, turned out it worked out pretty good. To win that many SEC titles is just mind-boggling.”
Chris Bucknam replaced McDonnell as Arkansas’ men’s coach in 2008 and has led the Razorbacks to 29 SEC titles in country and indoor and outdoor track. The Razorbacks won 38 SWC and 46 SEC championships under McDonnell.
“I’m excited for the kids that continue to come through this program and win SEC Championships,” Hunter Yurachek, hired as Arkansas’ athletic director in December 2017, said as he watched both UA teams celebrate. “It’s why we invested in the [$15 million] Frank O’Mara Center [at John McDonnell Field] to make sure this legacy continues that John McDonnell started and Chris Bucknam continues to build on the men’s side, and what Lance Harter has built on the women’s side.
“I’m sure Chris Johnson will continue that next year.”
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Johnson, sprints and hurdles coach for Arkansas’ women’s team, will succeed Harter when he retires as coach in June after the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Yurachek surprised Harter with an announcement on Thursday night the track at Randal Tyson Center would be named in his honor. A large copy of Harter’s signature was embedded inside the track oval near the finish line and on display for the SEC meet.
“I’m just so happy for Lance to have him win a championship on this newly anointed track,” Bucknam said. “Winning doesn’t get old, and this is a hard league to win.”
The women’s victory ended an emotional weekend for Harter that included about 150 former athletes returning to campus to help honor him.
“It was really neat having so many alumni back,” Gregory said. “Not only did we win a ninth title in a row — and I’ve been a part of a few of them — but the alumni who won the early ones were here.
“So it just feels like passing the baton and carrying on the legacy.”
Harter said he was humbled so many former athletes were on hand for the announcement the track was being named for him.
“To be bestowed that honor was beyond my wildest dreams and my family’s dreams,” Harter said. “And it was really neat to have my family all here.
“There are people that came back from generations ago. Some that I haven’t seen in 20 years and sometimes 30. Some of them were on Bev’s teams.
“It’s just cool they took the time and the energy and the financial responsibility to come here and make it a special weekend.”
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The men’s and women’s teams often travel together on charter flights and they train at the same time at the indoor and outdoor facilities.
Arkansas’ men’s team members were cheering on the women’s relay to cap the meet.
“You can see the energy we have together as teams,” said Arkansas sophomore Britton Wilson, who anchored the Razorbacks’ victorious 1,600-meter relay team after taking second in the 800. “We all work really hard, and we have very talented and mentally driven teams.”
Arkansas junior sprinter Amber Anning is a transfer from LSU, where she was an All-American, but never won an SEC team championship.
“I’ve always wanted a team ring, so to be able to do it with these girls is awesome,” said Anning, who ran on the 1,600 relay and took second in the 400. “When I was at LSU, watching Arkansas sweep SEC titles was very annoying.
“It’s actually nice to finish on top.”
At Arkansas, it’s the expectation for the men and women.
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