Outdoor season begins for Arkansas track & field

Arkansas women’s track and field coach Chris Johnson speaks prior to a championship flag raising, Tuesday, March 12, 2024, at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville. (J.T. Wampler/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE — Twenty-nine years after Chris Johnson first competed at the Texas Relays when he was a sprinter at Lamar University, he’ll be back as a college head coach for the first time.

Johnson, in first season as coach of the Arkansas women’s track and field team, will lead the Razorbacks at the 96th Texas Relays this week.

The meet begins today at Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas.

It’s the outdoor season opener for the Razorbacks, who won SEC and NCAA Indoor championships.

“Obviously the indoor season was a good season,” Johnson said. “It seemed very long at the time, but it really went by pretty quickly.

“You don’t want to minimize things, because it’s a great achievement and these young ladies worked really hard to do that. Everything fell into place, and that doesn’t happen all the time.

“So we want to enjoy it, but now it’s time to move on and open up the outdoor season with the same goals in mind.

“Just go out and be able to execute and stay healthy. The staff has done a fantastic job. I get a lot of credit for it, but the athletes and staff have done a great job. They make me look good.”

Sara Van Aken will get the Razorbacks going today in the heptathlon.

Arkansas will run in several relays, Johnson said, as well as individual events starting Thursday.

“It’s a big deal,” Johnson, who is from the Houston suburb of Waller, Texas, said of competing at the Texas Relays. “Being from Texas, personally it’s near and dear to my heart.

“Arkansas has always done well at the Texas Relays, and there’s the rivalry with Texas. I think it’s important from a recruiting standpoint. It’s also important from a coaching standpoint and a competition standpoint. It’s close and Texas will be in our conference next year.

“I just think it’s a really good opener for us and we’ll have all we can handle once we get there.”

Arkansas men’s team, which won the SEC Indoor title and finished second to Texas Tech at the NCAA meet, will open its outdoor season Friday at the Stanford Invitational with its distance crew. The Razorbacks’ women’s team also will have distance runners at the Stanford Invitational.

Johnson said the Razorbacks are looking forward to competing in warmer weather in Austin — where temperatures are expected to be in the 70s this week — after a cold spell hit Fayetteville.

“It’s been pretty cold here, so we haven’t been able to get outside too much,” Johnson said. “So this gives us an opportunity to get outside and compete on an outdoor track in decent weather.”

Johnson said recruiting also is an important component of Arkansas being at the Texas Relays.

“It expands our brand,” Johnson. “Texas is a great track state, and a lot of high school kids are coming from all over the place to compete at the Texas Relays as well. It’s a fantastic place for us to display our talents.”