Razorback Men’s Track 2013 Preview

Courtesy University of Arkansas Department of Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE – Following a top-10 national finish during the cross country campaign, the Razorback track and field team opens its season Jan. 11 in a dual meet with Texas in Fayetteville. Head coach Chris Bucknam is in his fifth season at the helm of the track and field program with the help of assistant coaches Doug Case and Travis Geopfert. Dating back to the 2011 SEC Outdoor Championships, Arkansas enters the track and field season as the winner of five consecutive SEC competitions.

With its current roster, Arkansas features 14 returning All-America performers from a season ago including defending NCAA indoor pole vault champion Andrew Irwin and three-quarters of its national champion 4×400-meter relay team with Neil Braddy, Akheem Gauntlett and Marek Niit. The Razorbacks will also have Olympians Niit (Estonia) and Raymond Higgs (Bahamas) who represented their countries last summer in London.

The Arkansas sprints and hurdles crew will also be bolstered by seniors Caleb Cross and Travis Southard. Cross was the SEC champion in the 400-meter hurdles last season and was part of the Razorbacks’ 4×100-meter conference title. Southard earned a pair of All-America honors last season with the distance-medley relay and for his qualifying duties with the 4×400-meter relay.

Moving up to its middle- and long-distance runners, Arkansas will benefit from the All-American status of Eric Fernandez, Anthony Lieghio, Leoman Momoh and Patrick Rono. Fernandez was an All-American during the 2011 cross country season and SEC champion at 10,000 meters last season. Lieghio, Momoh and Rono were all members of the distance-medley relay at the indoor national meet. Rono was the 2012 SEC Freshman Runner of the Year for the indoor season.

In multi-event competition, Kevin Lazas and Gunnar Nixon enter the season after indoor and outdoor All-America performances last year. Lazas, the SEC champion in the decathlon last year, turned in a pair of third-place national finishes in 2012 and is also the school-record holder in the 10-discipline event. Nixon, the school-record holder in the heptathlon, was fifth in the decathlon at the NCAA Championships and added victories at the USA and World Junior Championships during the summer.

Irwin is one of three All-Americans among the Razorbacks’ field contingent. He is joined on that list by Higgs and Noah Kittelson. Higgs was the SEC outdoor champion in the long jump and finished third at the national meet. Kittelson made his first NCAA appearance last season in the high jump. Arkansas will also regain the services of four-time All-American Tarik Batchelor who redshirted last season.

For a second-consecutive season, the Razorbacks’ recruiting class received a top-10 ranking by Track & Field News and was ranked sixth in the publication’s annual report. Overall, this year’s freshmen and transfer group includes Lane Austell (multi events), Kemoy Campbell (distance), Christian Heymsfield (distance), Eric Janise (sprints), Jarrion Lawson (jumps), Ken LeGassey (jumps), Aidan Swain (distance), Cale Wallce (distance), Tevin Whitney (middle distance) and David Wren (sprints).

Arkansas has already seen the benefits of Campbell and Wallace during the cross country season during the fall semester. Campbell ran to All-America honors at the NCAA Championships with a 17th-place finish and earned All-SEC and all-region honors. Wallace was the SEC Freshman of the Year for his efforts to helping the Razorbacks to a conference title.

Along with 11 home meets—six indoor and five outdoor—on its schedule, Arkansas will play host to the 2013 SEC and NCAA Indoor Championships. As always, Arkansas’ home indoor meets will be held at the Randal Tyson Track Center while the home outdoor meets will be played out at John McDonnell Field

Arkansas and the Randal Tyson Track Center will host the SEC Indoor Championships for the seventh time, previously hosing the meet in 2000, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011. The indoor conference meet will be held Feb. 22-24 at the Razorbacks’ home facility. Two weeks later, the Razorbacks will increase their national hosting duties to 11 with the NCAA Indoor Championships. The nation’s best will compete March 8-9. Arkansas most recently hosted the national indoor meet during the 2010 season.

The outdoor postseason begins May 9-12 with the SEC Championships in Columbia, Mo., hosted by conference newcomer Missouri. With spots in the national meet on the line, the Razorbacks will then compete May 23-25 at the NCAA West Preliminary in Austin, Texas. The 2013 collegiate season will conclude June 5-8 with a trip to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA Championships.

With an emphasis on team scoring and head-to-head competition, the Razorbacks will have six scored meets outside of the conference and national meets. Arkansas’ scored home meets will be its annual dual with Texas (Jan. 11), Razorback Team Invitational (Jan. 25-26), John McDonnell Invitational (April 12-13), Arkansas Invitational (April 27). Another pair of scored meets will take place with the Texas State Quad in San Marcos, Texas (March 23) and dual meet with Oregon in Eugene (April 19-20).

Following the collegiate campaign, the track and field season continues June 19-23 with the USA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The world’s best will then compete July 22-27 at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene and Aug. 10-18 at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.