State of Hogs: Indoor Track

The Arkansas men send 19 to NCAA meet, women in good position with nine as NCAA Indoor Championships begin Friday at Tyson.

There is little doubt that both Chris Bucknam and Lance Harter enjoy the role as host school for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships this weekend. The track at the Tyson Indoor Facility is the world's fastest and best.

Bucknam, the UA men's coach, and Harter, women's coach, beam about their good fortune to train and perform in that building. But both expressed concern about some small worries about hosting a big event.

"It's a blessing and a curse at the same time," Bucknam said. "We are familiar with the facility and with the track. That's great.

"But you lose some control of your athletes at home. On the road, you are in the same hotel, take the same shuttles and have control over their breakfast and preparations of their bodies.

"At home, you stay in apartments and there is a lot going on around the arena with basketball and baseball happening around the same time. You just worry about the logistics and traffic. You have the infamous not showing up on time because of traffic."

Harter laughed about that. He said it's so true.

"We actually will go to class Friday morning and then run that night," he said. "Mentally, it's just different when you are home. I try to make sure our athletes stay in their own beds. So many of these girls will take to the couch and give their beds to moms who are in town.

"I know that sounds like a different worry, but it actually happens and I try to talk them out of that."

Neither coach was trying to talk their way out of the role as one of the leading contenders for the team trophy.

The men are in the best position with a nation's best 19 event qualifiers, including 13 in the top eight positions, nine in the top four. But they will have to contend with three-time defending national champ Florida. The women won a tight battle with LSU for the SEC title two weeks ago and have nine entries for one of its strongest bids at a team title.

"No one is talking about rankings, just keeping our foot down," said Bucknam of the chances for the No. 1-ranked Hogs. "We just want to keep the pedal to the metal and don't change anything, finish it off.

"This meet has a life of its own. It's different than the SEC and different from all other meets.

"It's a test. We'll see if we can pass it."

The UA women are rated No. 3 nationally, but LSU and Kansas may have a few more quality entries. No. 4 Oregon is a contender, too. Still, Harter knows there is a better chance than usual for his team.

"We have 11 scoring opportunities and that's a lot," he said. "Thus far, we've had an outstanding team. LSU has a formidable team. LSU is not in a lot of events, but they are very potent."

The men have the number one qualifier in the 800 with Leoman Momoh and in the triple jump with Tarik Batchelor. The Hogs are second best in the heptathlon with Kevin Lazas and the pole vault with Andrew Irwin.

The big guns for the women are Regina George in the 400 and Makeba Alcide in the pentathlon, both top qualfiers. George anchors the 4x400 relay team that has the best time.

Asked about a fun race to watch, Bucknam pointed to the 800 where the Hogs have Momoh and three others. Tomas Squella (third), Patrick Rono (eighth) and Anthony Lieghio (14th) provide a lot of possibilties.

"That's a fun race – if you are not a coach," Bucknam said. "We've got four of 16 so that will be interesting. You look at the conference meet and the best guy doesn't even make the final. It's a race where anything can happen."

Pace and tactics can be so important. It's easy to get boxed when the race hits a high gear and then come up empty.

"It's a dangerous event," Bucknam said. "It can be fast, slow, but we've got four fit guys."

Mohmoh got the top qualifying spot with a blazing 1:46.07 at a last chance meet last weekend. He didn't score at the SEC meet.

"Leo has been an outstanding performer for us," Bucknam said. "But he didn't run well (at the SEC meet). We've been battling sickness all year and he wasn't feeling well."

But it was not a stunner.

"His best is a 1:48, but he's done 1:47 splits (indoors) and he did a 1:46 split outdoor," Bucknam said. "He had something to prove. It was not out of the blue. But it was fast and we were impressed."

Bucknam said the 800 is one of several "must-see events" for Arkansas fans. There are several that the Hogs will go head-to-head with Florida.

"There's head-to-head competition in the long jump, triple jump, 400, 800 – must see events – and we have some places to score in the 3k, 5k and the 4x400. It could come down to the 4x400. That race could be a lot of fun – if you are not a coach."

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