A couple of weeks ago, it looked like the Arkansas men might roll again in the SEC track and field championships. That was before three key athletes were counted out of the scoring. Now, a possible 50-point meet might be as close as 10 points.
Kemoy Campbell is out with an Achilles injury, Stanley Kebenei is down with mono and Kevin Lazas is in home in Tennessee for a family emergency. Those three would have doubled or tripled in events and might have scored 40 to 50 points for the No. 1 ranked Hogs.
Interestingly, UA coach Chris Bucknam said last year that he had some scorers for the conference meet in the stands since league rules allow only 27 entries.
"Those guys are in the meet now," Bucknam said. "They won't score like the three we lost, but they will gain experience and they probably can score some points.
"Losing those three puts a dent in our ability to score some points. Kemoy could possibly run, but he's only at 90 percent and he could injure it worse. We decided it was best to rest him for outdoor. Kemoy and Stanley could beat about 90 percent of the runners out there, but it's that other 10 percent that you worry about. We don't want to do that with them.
"Lazas would not have been in the heptathlon, but he would have been in the long jump and pole vault. But he has a family situation at home in Tennessee. He needs to be there. He is healthy."
The meet begins for the men and women on Thursday in College Station with the multi-event competitions. The rest of the meet starts Friday with conclusion set for Saturday.
Pole vaulter Andrew Irwin is healthy now, too. He won the NCAA Indoor last year and is rounding into shape after minor surgery over the Christmas break. He went 18-4.5 two weeks ago to move to the third best mark in the country. He'll have great competition from Ole Miss, but should score big points.
"Andrew is a gamer and he'll compete," Bucknam said. "He could give us a big lift. But it's important for our guys to just focus on their events and not on the scoreboard. We will look at the points late in the meet and could make some changes."
Bucknam said he can't remember losing three key performers this close to a big meet. Can the Hogs still win?
"Absolutely," he said. "We still think we are in position. But the trap is that we won by a considerable margin last year. Now it's going to be a close meet.
"We know we are battling against tough competition, but maybe they have some adversity, too. We do know our guys are going to compete. I talked to some of our leaders earlier this week. They all said, 'We know we have to step up.' And they will."
In the men's competition, the Hogs will be challenged by No. 2 Florida and No. 4 Texas A&M.
There is similar strength in the women's meet where the No. 4 Razorbacks, the defending SEC champs, are battling No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Texas A&M. Kentucky is sixth and Georgia seventh.
"I sometimes think the rest of the country doesn't try, when you look at the rankings and where all of the SEC teams are," said Lance Harter, UA women's coach. "Five of the top seven are from the SEC.
"We are starting to come on. I think a lot of people overlooked us. Our youth stepped up. We've remained undefeated, one way or another. Now we are focused on defending our title.
"We have some athletes with the flu, but I think we'll all be there. It's been a head cold bug. Some are finishing it up, some have notified us in the last day they are starting to get it. It will be a factor with our team."
One of the top newcomers in the SEC is sprinter Regene Williams. She'll triple in the 60, 200 and mile relay. Williams has the fourth best time in the country in the 200.
Harter also expects big points in distance specialists Grace Heymsfield and Stephanie Brown.
"The SEC was once labeled a spring/jump league, but the distances have exploded," Harter said. "Florida has added a good distance runner in January. That takes points directly from us."
As far as the meet scoring, Harter said it will be a battle with several teams capable of winning.
"I don't think any of us can just win on their own," he said. "It will probably come down to who gets help from a team below us. We are going to go head to head with Florida in the distances. Texas A&M has the sprinters."
Points Slip Away, But UA Men to Contend
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