Lazas Sets Tone, Irwin Wins Pole Vault

Kevin Lazas came within a whisker of setting personal records in the first four events of the pentahlon to start the Arkansas track team on the right note to open the NCAA meet. Then, Andrew Irwin made it back-to-back NCAA indoor crowns in the pole vault.

Kevin Lazas started Arkansas in grand fashion Friday in the opening hours of the NCAA Track and Field Championships at the Tyson Track Center. The junior multi-event specialist went off.

Then, pole vaulter Andrew Irwin made it back-to-back NCAA crowns with a personal best of 18-8.25 to help the Razorbacks to the first-day lead with 30 points, more than doubling three-time defending champ Florida (14).

What would have been an unbelievable opening day came bouncing to a halt in the last event when Kemoy Campbell dropped the baton in the distance medley relay just when it appeared he might surpass coach Chris Bucknam's expectations.

"It's a tough way to end the night," Bucknam said. "We were right in there. We had counted one point (for eighth) and it looked like we would get that and maybe more.

"It's unfortunate. I thought we were good enough in the DMR with a real team. You have to hang on to the stick. He got it knocked out from behind and that's always the way it happens."

The UA women had a good first day. The DMR, with Elkins product Grace Heymsfield anchoring, got a thrid place for six points. It put the Razorbacks in 12th with 8.5 points.

"That was pretty darn exciting to finish the night," said Lance Harter, the women's coach. "We had a great night and we did everything possible and maybe a little more as far as our qualifiers.

"LSU is on cue (at fifth with 10) and Kansas (leading with 20) is right there, too. It's going to be a heavy day tomorrow."

The women hope for big points from Regina George in the 400 and with her anchor in the 4x400. They also have pentathlete Mekibe Alcide on tap for the finale.

Irwin passed at the opening two heights, had an easy clear at 18-0.5, then passed again before another easy clear at 18-2.5.

The Mount Ida junior then delighted about half of his home town when he won a duel with ORU's Jack Whitt. He missed his opening try at 18-4.5, then cleared on his third run at 18-6.5. By then, Whitt as passing in hopes of putting pressure on Irwin.

Irwin cleared his first jump at 18-8.25. Whitt passed again, then missed three straight at 18-10.25 to make Irwin the winner.

"I got my 10 points which is going to help us out tremendously," Irwin said, "and hopefully I put on a good enough of show to inspire my teammates and hopefully they'll do their thing and win some more events and score points and we will pull this out.

"My gosh, we want to win this one. We want to win so bad. Losing Indoor Nationals last year by five points, we have got a really good team this year."

UA assistant coach Doug Case, who handles the vaulters, knew it was going to take a personal best to win against a field that included 10 with 18-foot vaults.

"It was the best field we've seen in this meet in years," Case said. "This is what Andrew does in big meets. The team needed a big-time score from him and he delivered.

"I said it would take a PR for him to win. He did that.

"He was jumping at his lifetime PR and he was in fourth at that point if he goes out. He'd passed at some lower heights. But we knew he wasn't going to win it at 18-2. It was going to take a big jump. In big meets, you have to take a few risks."

Lazas came within two centimeters of setting personal records in all four of the opening events in the heptathlon in the early hours of the meet Friday.

Lazas is the day one leader in the two-day event with 3,449 points. He holds the clear lead over Wisconsin's Japheth Cato (3,351), Georgia's Garrett Scantling (3,323) and Texas' Johannes Houck (3,279).

"It's awesome," Lazas said. "Our team is on a mission. I came out on a mission. I wanted to try to start us off right. I came within two centimeters in the high jump of PRing in all four events.

"It was very important to my team to get us going the right way, and get every point I can for us. I feel like I'm on a roll with all of those PRs."

Bucknam liked the start. And he was even happier when the Hogs claimed third and fourth (behind winning Florida) in the long jump for 11 points. Jarrion Lawson (25-7.25) and Raymond Higgs (26-0) got 11 points for the Hogs, who had hoped for 10 there.

The men also got seven points -- possibly a few more than expected -- in the 200 with Akheem Gauntlett (20.72) earning fourth and Marek Nitt (20.86) finishing seventh.

They are in position for another big day Saturday, starting with Lazas in the heptathlon. And the Hogs love their 4x400 relay team that will close out the night.

"Great day," Bucknam said of Lazas. "I believe it was three personal bests."

In the other early event Friday with an Arkansas entry, Makeba Alcide got the UA women on the board with a tie for sixth in the high jump. A multi-event specialist and the favorite in the pentahlon Saturday, Alcide scored 2.5 points for the women with a jump of 6-1.5.

"She irritated the bar a lot, skinned it three times at 6-2 1-2, all three good jumps," Harter said. "We got more than we could ask for. That helps.

"Now she comes back in her bread and butter tomorrow and she feels good. She's in good spirits. She scored and she's ready to come back and get ready for tomorrow."

Lazas was most proud of hitting 49-02.5 (or 15.0 in meters) to lead the shot put in the third event of the day.

"To hit that 15-0 right off the bat was big," he said. "That's a big number. I'm happy with all of it, though."

Scantling won the SEC in the same building two weeks ago, with Lazas sitting out.

"I sat out the conference meet," Lazas said. "I wanted two extra weeks of training."

Bucknam thought the decision to rest Lazas paid dividends.

"Yeah, so far good," Bucknam said. "He looks light on his feet and he had great efforts in all events. I am proud of the way he competed. We needed somebody kicking this thing off, getting after it and setting the tone.

"He's got the vault but the Wisconsin guy is a formidable guy. He's a better hurdler. It could come down to the 1,000. He'll have to gut it out."

The Hogs are trying to unseat three-time defending NCAA indoor champ Florida. They were a close second last year

"We feel good," Lazas said. "Everyone has been great in practice."

Lazas had the leading distance in the shot put and won the 60 at 6.90. He was middle of the pack in the long jump at 24-9.25. He was pleased with his 6-6.25 high jump. He grazed the bar on his final attempt at a PR height of 6-7.5.

In the women's prelims Friday, UA 400-meter ace George was an easy qualifier. She ran the third best time -- backing off on the cut in to avoid a collision -- to make the final eight, joining teammate Sparkle McKnight, with the eighth and final spot.

On the men's side of the 400, Anton Kokorin finished fourth in his heat at 46.14, but that was sixth best and he'll advance.

The UA men advanced two to the finals of the 800 with Patrick Rono (1:48.91) in fourth and Tomas Squella (1:48.76) in seventh.

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