FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas men’s track and field coach Chris Bucknam has led the Razorbacks to Southeastern Conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track during his five years with the program.
But in that time, there’s something Bucknam and the Hogs haven’t been able to accomplish. It’s something they want to change this weekend.
Arkansas is taking aim at its first national title under Bucknam during the two-day NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, which begin today at the Randal Tyson Track Center. The Razorbacks enter the meet ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s poll and have an event-high 19 athletes qualified to participate in 13 events, making them the favorite to win the program’s first indoor national title since 2006.
“We just talk about just keeping our foot down on the pedal,” Bucknam said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all year long. We don’t want to change anything. We continue to approach this meet like all of our other meets and that’s just keep the foot down on the gas and let’s finish this thing off. That’s basically all you can say.”
Arkansas team took a confident step toward reaching that goal by running away from Florida in the SEC Indoor meet in Fayetteville two weeks ago. The Gators — who did close the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the latest USTFCCCA poll — return to Fayetteville as the three-time defending champion in the NCAA Indoor meet and remain Arkansas’ biggest competition for the national title.
“We pride ourselves in being our best at this time of year,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said, according to NCAA.com. “If people pay attention to our program, we usually do our best at the conference and national meets.”
Bucknam pointed to head-to-head battles with the Gators in the 200-meters, 400, 800 and long jump as events that could be key in determining the championship. He also said it will be important for the Razorbacks to take advantage of events like the 3,000 and 5,000, which won’t have much competition from the Gators.
Two Razorbacks have NCAA-leading marks heading into the meet. Leoman Momoh ran the 800 in 1:46.07 at the Arkansas Final Qualifier last week. Arkansas jumper Tarik Batchelor also holds the NCAA’s top mark in the triple jump.
In addition, the third-ranked Arkansas women’s team will have three NCAA-leading marks with Makeba Alcide (pentathlon), Regina George (400) and the 4x400-meter relay. The Razorbacks have nine athletes qualified to participate in eight events.
“We pretty much have the lineup we expected to go into the meet and battle with our peers, and we look forward to that battle,” Arkansas coach Lance Harter said.
Bucknam was asked if there was any possibility Arkansas could struggle by taking its No. 1 ranking for granted this weekend. Bucknam said most of the Razorbacks have been “in the business long enough to know that this meet has its own life.”
“So I don’t sense that at all from our guys at all,” Bucknam said. “Nobody is talking about the rankings. We’re just doing our business. Our kids have done a really good job. We just go into practice, get our stuff done. … And when we come and compete, we try to put our foot on the pedal and see what happens.”
The result could be Bucknam’s first national title since taking over for John McDonnell. It would be a significant step, one he believes the Hogs are ready to take.
“It’s a test,” Bucknam said. “We’ll see if we can pass it.”