Hog Calls

Track titles would have made McDonnell proud

Arkansas women’s head coach Lance Harter celebrates with his team, 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 — For the first and last time since the track inside the Randal Tyson Indoor Track Center last Thursday was named in his honor, retiring Arkansas Women’s Coach Lance Harter piloted his Razorbacks to their ninth consecutive SEC indoor track and field championship.

On the same Friday and Saturday, Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam piloted his Razorbacks men to their fourth consecutive SEC Indoor crown.

From somewhere above, both coaches imagined John McDonnell’s Irish eyes were smiling.

The NCAA’s greatest head coach with 42 Arkansas men’s national championships and 84 conference championships between 1974 and 2008, “Coach Mac” until his 2021 death staunchly supported his successor’s regime, Bucknam said often.

When then-Lady Razorbacks Athletic Director Bev Lewis was enticing Harter in 1990 to replace her as women’s head cross country and track coach off Lance’s Division II national championship success at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, McDonnell stressed the women’s potential could run with Arkansas’ men. That sold him, Harter said.

Ellen McDonnell, John’s wife, daughter Heather and son Sean, were among the 400 attending Thursday’s magnificent retirement ceremony organized on Harter’s behalf.

After his 2023 indoor Razorbacks outpointed 2022 NCAA Indoor national champion Florida 130.5 to 84 while Bucknam’s men exceeded runner-up Florida 100.25 to 73, Harter recalled the first time his team joined McDonnell’s in an SEC sweep.

“Coach Mac was so emotional about it,” Harter said. “For him it was just commonplace, but for the women to topple that it made him feel really, really good.”

Both Harter and Bucknam said how gratified they felt for each other and their staffs following Saturday’s sweep.

SEC titles have been commonplace for Harter with 44 and Bucknam with 28.

The page turns now to the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 10-11 in Albuquerque, N.M. Bucknam’s Razorbacks stand their best chance of winning a national championship since their 2013 Indoor title.

Harter may well gain national championship No. 7 and another in the June outdoor before handing reins to associate head coach Chris Johnson.

Still, the SEC sweep deserves dwelling. McDonnell never took his conference titles lightly. Neither do Harter and Bucknam. Especially with the SEC by far the toughest track league.

“We’re happy to hoist another SEC championship,” Bucknam said. “It’s an important glue to our history. This is a hard league to win and it never gets old winning.”

And it “stuck in our craw” galling to lose, Harter said, recalling Florida winning the 2022 SEC outdoor meet over Arkansas by four points.

“Obviously this for these kids was really special,” Harter said.

Especially on the Lance Harter Track, said senior Lauren Gregory, a Saturday women’s double SEC winner in the mile and 3,000 after Friday inheriting a last-place Arkansas distance medley relay and mile anchoring it to third.

“The new Lance Harter emblem on the track — I couldn’t stop looking at it,” Gregory said. “It just adds something else to the experience.”

An experience of SEC success that never gets old.