Arkansas men and women sweep for 34th time

Arkansas coach Lance Harter receives the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championship trophy on May 13, 2023, in Baton Rouge, La.

FAYETTEVILLE — Lance Harter led Arkansas to its first SEC team championship and its most recent as the women’s cross country and track and field coach.

Harter was in his second year at Arkansas when the Razorbacks joined the SEC and in their first competition won the 1991 cross country meet in Athens, Ga., with the low score of 30 points.

Arkansas’ men’s cross country team, already an established national power, won with a perfect score of 15 points.

But the women’s race was before the men’s, so technically Harter’s runners delivered Arkansas’ first SEC championship.

The Razorbacks had another sweep at the 2023 SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships over the weekend in Baton Rouge at LSU’s Bernie Moore Stadium.

Arkansas’ No. 1-ranked men’s team won with 149 points and the No. 3 UA women won with 134.

The women’s meet ended after the men’s events were completed, so again technically, Harter’s team won Arkansas’ latest SEC championship.

It was the 34th SEC sweep where the Razorbacks’ men’s and women’s teams won titles at the same conference cross country or indoor and outdoor track and field meets.

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Saturday night’s trophy presentation was especially meaningful for Harter because it was the final of 45 SEC championships for him in 33 years at Arkansas.

Harter, 73, is retiring after the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June.

Chris Johnson, Arkansas’ assistant who coaches the sprinters and hurdles, will replace Harter.

“That was never even a potential reality in my mind,” Harter said of winning 45 SEC championships. “To have it happen is beyond my wildest dreams.”

The Arkansas men won their 30th SEC championship since Chris Bucknam became the Razorbacks’ coach in 2008 when the legendary John McDonnell retired and 76th overall.

“I’m just blessed to be here,” said Bucknam, who came to Arkansas from Northern Iowa. “I’ve got a great coaching staff and we’ve got great kids.

“I’m glad to be able to keep the boat afloat.”

McDonnell led Arkansas’ cross country and track and field teams to 84 Southwest Conference and SEC championships from 1972-2008 and 40 national titles.

“When I came here, I was pretty anxious about following Coach McDonnell,” Bucknam said. “But Lance put his arm around me and said, ‘Hey, you can get this done. You’re the guy.’

“Lance was so supportive. I’ll always remember that.”

Harter’s teams have won seven NCAA championships, including this year’s indoor title when the men also won for another Razorbacks sweep.

“Lance is a phenomenal coach, and to be able to be with him these last 14 years and seeing all of his teams’ success has been a lot of fun to watch,” Bucknam said. “I’m so happy for him.

“Coaching at this level, things don’t always go the way you want them to, but he’s having a fairytale ending to his career.”

Arkansas’ men’s team scored in 14 of 21 events at the SEC Outdoors and had five individual champions with Jaydon Hibbert (triple jump), Wayne Pinnock (long jump), Roje Stona (discus), Jordan West (shot-put) and Ayden Owens-Delerme (400-meter hurdles).

Hibbert set the collegiate record (58 feet, 7 1/2) and Stona (225-2) and Owens-Delerme (48.26) set SEC meet records with collegiate-leading marks.

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The Razorbacks won by 60 points over LSU, which was second with 89.

“It’s impressive,” Bucknam said. “I think on our [projection] sheet I had us for maybe 125 points. But we just crushed it.”

So did Arkansas’ women, who scored in 13 events and got individual titles from Britton Wilson (400 and 400 hurdles), Amanda Fassold (pole vault) and Sydney Thorvaldson (10,000). Wilson won the 400 in a collegiate record 49.13.

Florida, ranked No. 2, was second with 112 points.

“We talked to the team about the need to understand we just don’t need all wins, because every point is important,” Harter said. “It was really great how they all bought in.”

The Arkansas women won their 10th SEC Outdoor title after winning their first in Baton Rouge in 2000.

“We only had 13 kids when we won the first one at LSU,” Harter said. “Now we’re fighting with 30, and we actually had to leave some kids at home that potentially could have scored but couldn’t be on the roster because of the SEC limit.”

When Arkansas swept the SEC cross country titles in 1991, Athletic Director Frank Broyles — a Georgia native — was back in his home state for the meet.

“Coach Broyles out-sprinted our kids to get the trophy from Commissioner [Roy] Kramer after we won,” Harter said with a laugh. “He was so excited.

“Our team was on the same flight as Coach Broyles from Atlanta back home, and before we took off, he stood up and introduced every kid on the plane and had them stand up. He was so proud.

“He said, ‘This is the team that won the first SEC championship ever for the University of Arkansas.’

“Everybody on the plane was very nice and polite about it, but I’m sure there were some people traveling for business or whatever going, ‘What the heck?’ But it was really a nice moment for our team.

“Every SEC title we’ve won has been special.”