Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Arkansas hopes for repeat at NCAA indoor meet
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- The way Chris Bucknam sees it, Arkansas is a team with plenty to prove at this weekend's NCAA indoor track and field championships.
That's saying something from the coach of the men's team that has occupied the No. 1 ranking for much of the season -- one that won its 41st overall national championship in the same event last year.
Despite last year's title, as well as winning the Southeastern Conference championship two weeks ago, the Razorbacks enter this weekend's championships in Albuquerque, N.M., ranked second behind Florida.
That's just fine with Bucknam, who led Arkansas to its 20th indoor national championship last season. The title was the school's first since the 2006 indoor national championship, and it was the first under Bucknam in the post-John McDonnell era.
Since winning the indoor title, the Razorbacks have finished third behind at last year's outdoor event and 12th at the cross country championships in November. The Gators tied for the outdoor title with Texas A&M, while Colorado earned the cross country championship.
So, for all of the good will earned with last year's indoor title, Bucknam isn't about to dwell on it.
"You're only as good as your last national meet," Bucknam said. "As far as I'm concerned, we've got work to do. Honestly, we are very, very proud of that championship, no question about it. But we are focused on this one."
Florida, which won three straight indoor national championships before Arkansas snapped the streak last year, moved to the top spot in the rankings for the first time this season following the SEC meet. Fellow SEC member Texas A&M is third behind the Razorbacks, with Wisconsin fourth and Arizona fifth.
Arkansas won the SEC title despite the absence of Kevin Lazas, last year's indoor champion in the heptathlon.
Bucknam said Lazas, who missed the SEC meet due to personal reasons, will return for this weekend's meet. The senior has the second-best collegiate heptathlon score this season with 5,923 points, trailing only Duke's Curtis Beach.
Florida's Dedric Dukes finished the 200-meter sprint in 20.55 seconds to win the SEC championships, a time that was the best this year by an American collegian. His teammate, Arman Hall, was second in the event with a time of 20.58.
Hall also won the 400 with a time of 45.28, the best time by an American this year -- just one example of the depth that pushed the Gators to No. 1 and the favorite to win their fourth indoor championship in the last five seasons.
That is, unless Arkansas is able to repeat last season's championship success.
"Everybody knows where we are ranked," Bucknam said. "It's not something that we talk about because really the only one at the end, that's the one that counts. ... That we're ranked No. 2 now doesn't faze us. We're just focused on scoring points."