Razorbacks pull off double NCAA titles

From left to right, Arkansas senior associate athletics director Terry Prentice, men's coach Chris Bucknam, women's coach Lance Harter and athletics director Hunter Yurachek are shown after the Razorbacks won team titles at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M.

FAYETTEVILLE — Two weeks after the Arkansas men’s and women’s track and field teams celebrated winning his and hers SEC championship trophies at home, they had an even bigger party in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday.

Arkansas swept the men’s and women’s NCAA championships in topping current and future SEC rivals.

First the Razorbacks’ women’s team held off Texas — which in the fall of 2024 will leave the Big 12 for the SEC — to win with 64 points as the Longhorns took second with 60 and Florida third with 45.

A couple of hours later, the Razorback men won with 64 points with Georgia second with 40 and Florida third with 34.

“As I told the men, ‘Hey, we set the table, now you guys just finish it off,’” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said. “And they crushed everybody.”

The Razorbacks’ men’s and women’s teams have combined for 49 national championships in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field — 42 by the men and 7 by the women — but this is the first time they both won at the same meet.

“It’s very much rarified air to have one university win both,” Harter said.

“It was really fun to watch Lance and his team win, and it set the stage for us,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “To be part of winning two titles is pretty cool. How often does that happen?”

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Arkansas became the fourth school to sweep NCAA Indoor titles along with Oregon (2014 and 2016), LSU (2004) and Arizona State (2008) since the women’s meet was first held in 1984.

The Razorbacks’ women, who also won NCAA Indoor titles in 2015, 2019 and 2021, clinched this year’s championship with a world-record performance in the 1,600-meter relay in the meet’s final event.

Arkansas led Texas 54-52 going into the relay, the meet’s final event.

Sophomore Britton Wilson anchored the Razorbacks to victory in 3:21.75, which broke the previous world record of 3:23.37 run by a Russian team in 2006.

Wilson, who about an hour earlier won the 400 in 49.48, was clocked in 49.19 on her relay leg.

Arkansas juniors Rosey Effiong and Amber Anning, who took fourth and sixth in the 400, also ran on the relay along with sophomore Joanne Reid.

Harter credited Chris Johnson, the Razorbacks’ sprints coach who will succeed him as head coach after the outdoor season, with Wilson, Effiong and Anning being able to double in a short window.

“That’s a tribute to how Chris trains them,” Harter said. “They were all so strong. Their strength is unmatched.”

Arkansas also got a strong double from senior Lauren Gregory, who anchored the distance medley relay to a second-place finish on Friday night, then took second in the mile on Saturday.

Individual championships for the Razorbacks along with Wilson were juniors Ackera Nugent, who won the 60-meter hurdles on Saturday, and junior Amanda Fassold, who won the pole vault on Friday night.

“You couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Harter said of the Razorbacks’ combined performances.

Arkansas’ women’s team came into the meet ranked No. 3 behind Texas and defending champion Florida.

“We just couldn’t get Texas to fall apart,” Harter said. “They just kept on coming at us, but they couldn’t catch us at the end.

“We made winning this title really special is that this probably is Texas’ best team ever. It’s definitely Florida’s best team ever, and so that means we have one of our best all-time teams.”

The No. 1-ranked Arkansas men’s team lived up to expectations and won in dominant fashion, led by freshman Jaydon Hibbert’s collegiate record 57-6 1/2 in winning the triple jump. It was his first and only attempt.

“It’s very satisfying,” Bucknam said of being picked to win and then doing it. “There is a certain weightiness to being the favorite.

“But we just told our kids to be who they are, and if they performed like who they are, we’re going to be in great shape.

“They handled it with flying colors. They were dialed in. It was pretty near perfect.”

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Arkansas won its 21st men’s national championship indoors and first NCAA first in cross country or indoor and outdoor track and since the 2013 indoors.

Between the Razorbacks’ national titles in 2013 and Saturday night, they finished second five times — indoors to Florida in 2012 and Oregon in 2014 and 2016 and outdoors to co-champions Florida and Texas A&M in 2013 and to Florida in 2016.

“I look at those runner-up trophies now and I feel like jumping off a cliff,” Bucknam said. “We had a lot of close calls. It’s just hard to win in this day and age.”

Hibbert broke the previous college record of 57-5 by Charleston Southern’s Charlie Simpkins in 1986. The previous Arkansas record was 57-1 by Mike Conley — a 9-time NCAA long and triple jump champion and a 1992 Olympic gold medalist and 1984 silver medalist — in 1985.

“Mike Conley I would put on the Mount Rushmore of our athletes at Arkansas in any sport,” Bucknam said. “Obviously Mike has won an Olympic gold medal, and Jaydon’s not there yet. But he’s off to a phenomenal start in college.”

The Razorbacks had the title clinched before the 1,600-meter relay, but they ran as if the meet was on the line as sophomore Connor Washington, senior James Benson, junior Ayden Owens-Delerme and senior Christoper Bailey won in 3:02.09.

Owens-Delerme ran on the relay after taking second in the heptathlon and Bailey ran after taking fifth in the 400.

Arkansas sophomore Carey McLeod won the long jump (27-6 1/2) and senior Wayne Pinnock took fourth (27-4).

Also scoring for Arkansas were senior Jordan West (fifth in the shot-put), sophomore Yariel Soto Torrado (sixth in the heptathlon), sophomore Patrick Kiprop (sixth in the 5,000), senior Lance Lang (eighth in the 200) and the Arkansas distance medley relay team of sophonmore Ben Shearer, Benson, junior Leroy Russell and sophomore Elias Schreml (seventh).

“Obviously in Coach Harter’s last year for him to get another national championship is great,” said Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, who attended the meet Saturday night. “And it had been a decade since Coach Bucknam had a national championship.

“So it was a really sweet moment for me as an athletic director to celebrate both of those two legendary coaches.”

The red flag with “47” written on it — signifying the combined national titles for the Razorbacks’ men’s and women’s programs — that flies at John McDonnell Field soon will be updated.

“We’ll raise our 49 flag and put the new number up,” Bucknam said. “Then we’ll go to work on getting 50 and 51 at the NCAA Outdoors.”