It's probably good to celebrate every SEC title as if it's your first and your last. For some of the athletes, that's the case and the post-meet jubilation and trips home are pure joy.
That's the way it was for the Arkansas women's track and field program a little over one week ago coming home from Lexington, Ky., when the Razorbacks took the top price, highlighted by a 1-2-3 finish in the 5,000 meter race, the next to last event of the day.
But it wasn't the first and it probably won't be the last for coach Lance Harter. It's 23 SEC crowns (14 cross country, five indoor and four outdoor) since coming into the league in 1991. It was the first outdoor crown in 10 years and may be one of Harter's top prizes.
"This one is very special," Harter said this week as the No. 8 women (along with the No. 4 men) host the NCAA West Regionals at John McDonell Track.
"We thought we might could be in the top three and maybe I was just a little conservative as I put down the points. But to get to (123), you just about have to be perfect and we were."
The Razorbacks had some cushion in the end, nipping Florida by 6.5 points, thanks to 24 points in the 5k and six more in the 4x400 relay to end the meet.
"It was a great celebration," Harter said. "Jeff Long, our AD, put our top administrative staff on the plane and got their for the final day. I really didn't know they were there, but when we were winning, here they all came out of the stands to find us. That made it extra nice."
Then, there was the great plane ride home on a team charter, along with the men's team. They had finished second when things fell perfectly for Texas A&M in the sprints.
"We've been on those flights with our men and called the Hogs with them and they cheered for us," Harter said. "They were great for us on that trip home."
Harter said he saw that wave of points in the sprints for A&M on the men's side, just as he has in some other years that cost the women an SEC outdoor title.
"I've been saying this for a long time, it's hard to win an SEC championship by yourself," Harter said. "Crazy things happen in these meets. We are two weeks ahead of regionals and when teams see they may not have enough points, they begin to pull runners. Or, maybe a sprinter gets hurt and all at once there is no one to take points away from a team. That's what happened to our men.
"We thought we were going to win four or five years ago and all at once a couple of teams pulled their sprinters and South Carolina got some one-two finishes in the 100 and 200. We lost by two points. There was nothing we could do and we'd been almost perfect. Those hurt, but it's what you have to do to protect an elite athlete facing a tough schedule."
That's what this week is about. You want to qualify for the nationals in two weeks in Eugene, Oregon, and you also know that for some there is also the U.S. Championships two weeks later, also in Eugene.
"So this is a meet that we all hate but it's necessary and the NCAA says we have to do it, so we do," he said. "But you better take care of your athletes. That's just why you never know at the SEC what's going to happen. You can figure the points, but you don't know when someone steps out."
It was the Florida coach that saw the Arkansas avalanche coming in the 5k last week and knew it was likely going to lead to a victory.
"He told me that if we went 1-2-3 we'd win and there was nothing they could do about it," Harter said. "They had two elite kids in the race and asking our kids to go 1-2-3 was a lot, but I thought I'd do it. I wanted them to know and they ran a wonderful race."
Diane Robison took first, Dominque Scott second and Grace Heymsfield third. It was a glorious race.
There were a lot of doubles and triples in that title run, but Harter said he's not going to ask for that much this week in the Thursday-Saturday meet.
"It's about self preservation right now," he said. "I don't want to do that to an elite kid. They need to have their strength to be effective and while they might can do a double, they have some elite athletes in their events."
There is momentum for the women's team as it rolls into regional competition. Harter feels it. He's seen a wave of support on Facebook and other social media for his athletes. Much of it has come from alumni scattered across the world.
"I have probably gotten 100 texts just from our former athletes and they are everywhere," Harter said. "And, I didn't realize how many messages you could get on Facebook. I've spent the last few days trying to answer all of them, hundreds. There's been a lot from fellow coaches here at Arkansas."
Harter thinks the Razorbacks will do well, on both sides. The women have qualified 20, the men 22.
"We have been sharpened by fire," Harter said. "We were tested at the SEC meet and we are ready for another great challenge."
The meet begins at noon Thursday with the javelin, then with the men's pole vault and Andrew Irwin at 1 p.m. The 400 hurdles begin the running events at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The men's high jump and women's triple jump start the Friday program at 5 p.m., the same time as the running events. For Saturday, that flips around with the women's high jump and men's triple jump starting the program at 6 p.m., with the men's 4x100 relay at the same time.
Here are the UA athletes qualified:
UA Women Entered
Amethyst Boyd: Javelin
Stephanie Brown: 1,500m
Taylor Ellis-Watson: 400m, 4x4
Alex Gochenour: 100mH
Daina Harper: 400m, 4x4
Kirsten Hesseltine: High Jump
Grace Heymsfield: Steeplechase
Paige Johnston: 1,500m
Jessica Kamilos: Steeplechase
Keri McClary: 1,500m
Sandi Morris: Pole Vault
Tamara Myers: Long Jump, Triple Jump
Danielle Nowell: Pole Vault
Sandie Raines: 10,000m
Diane Robison: 5,000m
Dominique Scott: 5,000m
Ariel Voskamp: Pole Vault
Chrishuna Williams: 400m, 4x4
Regine Williams: 100m, 200m, 4x4
Megan Zimlich: Pole Vault
UA Men Entered
Neil Braddy: 400m, 4x4, 4x1
Larry Donald: 400H
Dwayne Golbek: High Jump
Gabe Gonzalez: 10,000m
Solomon Haile: 5,000m
Eric Hawkins: 4x1
Raymond Higgs: Long Jump, Triple Jump
Andrew Irwin: Pole Vault
Eric Janise: 400m
Stanley Kebenei: Steeplechase, 5,000m
Noah Kittelson: High Jump
Jarrion Lawson: Long Jump, 4x1, 4x4
Ken LeGassey: High Jump
Anthony May: High Jump, Long Jump, Triple Jump
Omar McLeod: 110H, 400H, 4x1
Pete Mirocke: Javelin
Andrew Pisechko: 800m
Clive Pullen: Triple Jump
Devin Randall: Shot Put, Discus
Patrick Rono: 800m
Travis Southard: 4x4
Tomas Squella: 800m
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