Bob Holt is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he sits on the board of directors for the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year four times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame.
Arkansas' Nugent in loaded hurdles group at SEC Outdoors
Arkansas' Ackera Nugent competes at the LSU Invitational on Saturday, April 29, in Baton Rouge, La.
FAYETTEVILLE — Athletes from SEC teams have the top marks nationally in 14 of 42 men’s and women’s track and field events this outdoor season, but the women’s 100-meter hurdles is especially loaded.
It’s the only event in which the top three in the NCAA rankings all come from the same conference with Kentucky senior Masai Russell No. 1 (12.36 seconds), University of Arkansas junior Ackera Nugent No. 2 (12.52 seconds) and LSU junior Alia Armstrong No. 3 (12.56).
The trio will be competing against each other at this weekend’s SEC Outdoors Championships at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium in Baton Rouge.
“It’s always competitive in this event at the SEC meet,” said Arkansas assistant Chris Johnson, who coaches the sprinters and hurdlers. “But we don’t shy away from the competition. We’re looking forward to it.”
Nugent, who in August transferred to Arkansas after two years at Baylor, finished second in the 60-meter hurdles at this year’s SEC Indoor meet in 7.81 to Russell, who won in 7.77.
Nugent got payback at the NCAA Indoor meet, where she won in 7.73 with Russell taking second in 7.75.
“In the SEC, you know what to expect when you go to nationals,” said Nugent, who is from Kingston, Jamaica. “I want to be in a conference that will push me to stay on top of my A-game every time and not to be comfortable or complacent.”
As a freshman at Baylor, Nugent won an NCAA title in the 60 hurdles and outdoors took third in the 100 hurdles, but as a sophomore she didn’t earn All-American honors in either event.
“It was time for me to take a step forward and make a new journey for myself,” Nugent said. “I do want to be great, so I wanted to make that transition from Baylor to Arkansas.
“I did like the environment [at Baylor], but I felt like I needed to leave. I was doing good, but I wasn’t as consistent as I am now.”
Nugent also wanted to train with Johnson, who is in his 12th season at Arkansas and will become the Razorbacks’ head coach in July when Lance Harter retires.
Numerous transfers have thrived under Johnson’s guidance, most recently Arkansas junior Britton Wilson, an NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles last year after moving on from Tennessee.
Payton Chadwick, from Springdale, won the NCAA 60 hurdles title at Arkansas in 2018 after transferring from Oklahoma.
“I looked at Coach Johnson’s history with athletes and I talked to my coaches back at Baylor and they felt like Coach Johnson would be the perfect fit for me,” Nugent said. “But I think I needed more maturity [to be coached by Johnson]. You have to be mature to understand what he’s trying to get you to do.
“And if you’re not at that level, it’s not going to work out. So going to Baylor first was good for me.”
Johnson praised Nugent for deciding to step out of her comfort zone at Baylor.
“She ran fast before she got to Arkansas, but she has that ability to want more, and know there’s more out there, and to go get it, that was a risk on her part,” Johnson said. “I think she’s just a go-getter, and she’s determined to be the best.”
In addition to the 100 hurdles, Nugent will run the 100 and on the 400 relay at the SEC meet.
“I feel like I’m going to be fine with the workload,” Nugent said. “It’s basically like coming to practice.
“I feel like Coach Johnson has been setting me up training-wise for having the amount of endurance to do it.”
Nugent ran 11.13 to win the 100 at Arkansas’ John McDonnell Invitational on April 21 and set a meet record.
“Ackera has that great sprint speed, but she also has the skills to get over 10 barriers,” Harter said. “That combination makes her very special.”
Nugent is running in Baton Rouge for the second time this season.
Two weeks ago at the LSU Invitational, Nugent won the 100 hurdles in 12.52 to rank No. 2 on Arkansas’ all-time list behind Janeek Brown’s 12.40 in 2019 when she won the NCAA title.
Nugent, who ran a personal-best of 12.45 at Baylor in winning the Big 12 title last year, beat Armstrong — last year’s NCAA champion — on her home track at the LSU Invitational. Armstrong was second.
“That was my season opener for the hurdles,” Nugent said. “Now I’m focused on my start and my speed along the way.”
Before Nugent won this year’s NCAA 60 hurdles title, she ran 7.72 in the prelims to set the collegiate record and Jamaica’s national record. She broke the previous Jamaican record of 7.74 by Michelle Freeman in 1998.
“That wasn’t something I was focused on,” Nugent said of breaking a Jamaican record that stood for 25 years. “But it shows I’m going in the right direction.”
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