FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas track and field coach Chris Bucknam has been impressed with his team’s performance throughout the 2012-13 season.
The Razorbacks won the Southeastern Conference’s triple crown, claiming cross country, indoor and outdoor track titles. They grabbed their first national championship under Bucknam, too, winning the NCAA Indoor title earlier this year.
So with one meet left in the season, Bucknam hopes the success continues.
“I’m really proud of them and proud of my coaching staff,” Bucknam said Monday. “It's a long, drawn out season. You go from indoor to outdoor track. We have been training since October and this is how it all culminates right now.
“This group is a special group of athletes. There’s no question about it. I'm excited to get them on the track and see what happens.”
No. 2 Arkansas will take aim at the national title when competition begins at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., today. The Razorbacks haven’t won the NCAA Outdoor crown since 2003, but are one of the favorites this week.
There’s no doubt Arkansas has the numbers in place to accomplish it with a meet-high 20 qualifiers over the next four days. It was enough for Track and Field news to project Arkansas as the champion ahead of Texas A&M, Oregon and Florida.
Bucknam said success will depend on today. The Razorbacks have competitors in preliminary rounds of events like the 400- and 800-meters, 400 hurdles, 4x100 relay and the 3,000 steeplechase. The pole vault also will be held today.
“We have a lot of irons in the fire,” Bucknam said. “(Today) is a huge day for us. … Everything will hinge on that first day. We just have to attack it like it's the final day. That's the key to this. Not to get coy. Not to get fancy. That has been our theme all year to keep your foot down on the accelerator and don't let up.
“That's how we are going to approach (today). It's a big day for us.”
Kevin Lazas, who won the NCAA Indoor title in the heptathlon, and pole vaulter Andrew Irwin lead the Razorbacks into the national championship meet. Lazas has battled fatigue this season, but Bucknam said he is rested and ready.
Tarik Batchelor is the only Razorback who has qualified in two events and will compete in the long jump and triple jump.
Bucknam said scoring 50 or 60 points seems to be in the “magic range” for winning the championship this year, but it isn’t a guarantee. He pointed to the NCAA Indoor meet in which Florida scored 59 points and finished behind the Razorbacks (74).
The Track and Field News form chart projects Arkansas to score 65 points.
It’s a total Bucknam said he’d be thrilled with as his team, which has performed well as a favorite all year, tries to win the program’s 42nd national championship.
“We’re expecting to contend for a title,” Bucknam said. “We have a good group going to Eugene and it's going to be a matter of executing and getting the job done. There’s one intention and that's to compete for a title.”
Arkansas Women Projected Third
The Arkansas women’s team is projected to finish third at the NCAA Championships, according to Track and Field News.
The No. 7 Razorbacks have 11 national qualifiers spread over nine events. While Arkansas coach Lance Harter said his team isn’t the favorite to win this week — Kansas holds that title — it will try to take advantage of every scoring opportunity.
“It’s a matter of, ‘Let’s take care of our bullets and fire them well,’” Hart said. “If we take care of business, the other teams are going to be counting up our score.”
Makeba Alcide, who is one of the favorites in the heptathlon and will also compete in the high jump, leads Arkansas into the national championship meet in Eugene. Senior Regina George, who has 15 All-America honors in her career, also will aim for a national title in the 400 during her final competition with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas has four top-10 finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with the most recent coming in 2004. The Razorbacks’ best finish was fifth in 2001.
“I think we’re in a situation where we can score in every event that we’re entered in. It’s just a matter of advancing,” Harter said. “Taking care of that initial round. As I told (distance runner) Stephanie Brown in workouts (Sunday), I said, ‘You have to treat this first race as the final. Then the bonus is, you make the final.’
“I hope that holds true for each and every event.”