FAYETTEVILLE — A national championship appears out of reach for Chris Bucknam’s Razorbacks competing Wednesday and Friday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Yet, the Razorbacks, with an already banner season winning the SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crown, have a national honor dear to their heart for which they aspire.
The John McDonnell Award, named to honor Arkansas’ retired 42 national champion and 84 times champion track and cross country coach and honoring the nation’s best all-round cross country and indoor and outdoor track program, will be Arkansas’ with a Top 10 team finish in Eugene.
Iowa State’s eighth to Arkansas’ fourth at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and 13th to Arkansas’ seventh at the NCAA Indoor in College Station, Texas, comes closest to Arkansas’ cumulative national success.
“I know we’re in the mix for the John McDonnell Program of the Year trophy,” Bucknam said. “I think Iowa State is our main competition. So I hope we have a high enough finish that we can come away with that award. Iowa State is really good this year so it will be a battle. We’ve got goals on two fronts. Scoring as high as we can and leading the race on the program of the year award. Every point, everything is going to matter.”
LSU, the team whose Arkansas’ conference depth overcame to win the SEC Outdoor in College Station but with too much national quality for the Hogs, or anybody else it’s projected, is the heavy men’s favorite in Eugene.
“They are good across the board and they are clearly the favorite this weekend,” Bucknam said. “Oregon will give them a run on their home track. We’ll be trying to scrape and scratch for as many points as we can and get a Top 10 finish. Three national Top 10 finishes (adding to the SEC triple crown). If that would happen it would be a pretty good season across the board. We’d be thrilled.”
Arkansas’ prospects took a double hit at the NCAA West Preliminary meet in College Station when hurdler Tre’Bien Gilbert false started and LaQuan Nairn didn’t advance in the long jump.
However, Nairn did qualify for Eugene in the triple jump and the Hogs have two 110-meter hurdlers, Phillip Lemonious and Carl Elliott, in Wednesday’s prelims in Eugene aiming for Friday’s final.
“We feel that Phillip and Carl Elliott can score,” Bucknam said. “Phillip Lemonious in the 60-hurdles was fourth (nationally) indoors. Phillip is somebody who could challenge for the top two or three or one spot. I think Carl has a great shot of getting in the finals.”
Markus Ballengee, recovered from the injury forcing his withdrawal from the SEC Indoor decathlon, and Daniel Spejcher are in Eugene’s two-day decathlon.
“We feel like Markus and Daniel can score,” Bucknam said.
In the distance races the Hogs have Amon Kemboi in the 5,000-meters and Gilbert Boit in the 10,000 and qualified both relays, the 4x100 and 4x400.
“Amon Kemboi is really dangerous in the 5K,” Bucknam said. “We didn’t double him 5 and 10 or 1,500 and 5 so we think he’s one of the better distance runners in the country and he has a shot. Gilbert Boit looked really good in the 10K. He looked fresh. Didn’t double him for the first time this year so he’ll be fresh in there. All the guys in the 4x100 and 4x400 are not in any individual event. So they’ve got one job to do and that is try and get to the finals both in the 4x100 and 4x400.”