By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas men’s track and field team hasn’t forgotten what happened during the 2010 Southeastern Conference championship meet. Chances are, neither has the SEC.
But as the Razorbacks prepare for the 2011 SEC Championships, which begin today and run through Sunday for both the men’s and women’s teams in Athens, Ga., they want to make one thing clear. Last season’s seventh-place finish at the SEC Championships was an aberration and definitely not the new norm for Arkansas track and field.
"I think that was by far the worst finish we’ve ever had at a conference championship," Arkansas distance runner Duncan Phillips said. "So you could say its redemption or just kind of doing what we know we can do and erasing last year’s performance out of our minds is our goal."
Nothing went right for the Razorbacks during the 2010 SEC Outdoor meet. There were a number of circumstances that led to the disappointment.
Most prominently, the Razorbacks roster was loaded with youth lacking experience at a meet of that caliber. Veteran distance runner Dorian Ulrey was redshirting the season. Injuries and other absences also hurt Arkansas’ depth.
Coach Chris Bucknam said he had a feeling a letdown was possible after his team won the SEC Outdoor crown in 2009. But the fall may have been even further than he could have imagined.
"We knew at some point our youth was going to catch up to us and that’s what happened," Bucknam said. "We had 22 sophomores last year and you are going to get hammered if that’s the case. You have got to have some experience and big hitters. We just had too many young kids."
Long jumper Alain Bailey was the only Razorback to win an SEC title at the meet. Arkansas’ finish was its worst ever at the SEC meet and it didn’t get any better at the NCAA Championships last June, when the Hogs did not score at the meet for the first time since 1980.
But Bucknam believes the Razorbacks are "over the hump" now as they begin the 2011 outdoor championship season this weekend, believing they’re a competitive team once again.
The men’s team enters the SEC meet ranked 11th in the nation, while Florida and LSU are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Those two are the favorites to walk away with the title this weekend, but Arkansas plans to put up a fight.
"In our meeting we talked about that," Bucknam said. "We had to make up for lost ground and get back into the mix and contend for an outdoor championship like we did two years ago.
"We can go across the board to find things to be motivated about and that’s one of them."
Arkansas has won 15 of the 19 SEC Outdoor Championships held since the program entered the conference in 1992. To get No. 16, Phillips said the Razorbacks can’t afford many mistakes in events they’re expected to score well in because of the strengths of Florida and LSU.
But Phillips said Arkansas has gained confidence with its performances of late, including the Penn Relays last month and the Arkansas Twilight meet last weekend.
Florida won last year’s SEC Outdoor meet and also grabbed the 2011 SEC Indoor and NCAA Indoor championships. The former came at the Tyson Track Center, something Phillips said the Razorbacks have though about since January.
They’re confident the outcome can be much different this time around.
"We’re looking forward to the challenge," Phillips said. "We believe we can win even if no one else in the conference believes we can."