FAYETTEVILLE — Since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1991-92 only one team has won the SEC Cross Country-Indoor Track-Outdoor triple crown in the same academic year.
It’s the Razorbacks, 12 times under retired Arkansas Coach John McDonnell and three times under Coach Chris Bucknam.
Bucknam’s men seek a 16th triple for Arkansas and to complete a second consecutive triple crown for themselves.
The last piece of the puzzle, the SEC Outdoor, plays out today through Saturday at the University of South Carolina’s Sheila & Morris Cregger Outdoor Track in Columbia, S.C.
The Razorbacks women of Coach Lance Harter pose an even more historic triple threat in their SEC Outdoor today through Saturday in Columbia.
Only Harter’s Razorbacks, four times and the last two consecutively, have ever won the SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple they seek again and to extend to 10, starting with the 2014 SEC Outdoor, their string of victories in SEC Championships whether indoors, outdoors or cross country.
Generally, Arkansas’ SEC success defies national rankings.
That’s how the stage sets again.
Nationally Harter’s women rank fifth, behind SEC members Texas A&M and fourth-ranked LSU with Kentucky, Georgia, Florida and Alabama hot on Arkansas’ heels ranked sixth, seventh, eighth, and 10th.
Bucknam’s men only rank ninth nationally and trail five SEC lodge brothers. Texas A&M and Florida, the defending national champion, nationally rank first and second. Georgia, Alabama and LSU rank fourth through sixth.
Takers would be few to find Arkansas behind any, and certainly not behind more than one, when the men’s and women’s meets concludes Saturday.
National and conference rankings are apples and oranges and generally Arkansas wins the SEC fruit and contends strongly for the other including one NCAA Indoor title for Bucknam’s men and one NCAA Indoor and one NCAA Outdoor title (2016) for Harter’s women.
The staffs actually are prouder of their SEC success than their national championships.
Men’s sprints coach Doug Case explains why.
“I always say this is the true national team championship with the quotations on team,” Case said. “The best team in the country wins the SEC meet. The NCAA meet is a little more of who has the best small group of individuals. Maybe the best group of five. But when you look at the SEC, it’s who has the best track and field team in the nation and the SEC absolutely dominates that area. Whoever wins the meet is the real team national champion.”
Men or women.
“They do a power ranking in conferences and we (SEC) double the next closest one, which I think is the Pac 12,” Harter said. “If you take No. 2 and No. 3 conferences and add them together, the SEC is still dominant. So anytime you can win an SEC title, those are cherished moments.”
Bucknam and Harter take pride their programs don’t go the niche sport route loading up just on distance runners or one particular track group but field teams both premier conference and nationally strong.
“It’s about triple crowns,” Bucknam said. “It’s about being good in every sport you compete in. Not many programs are doing that. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Alabama, second to Arkansas in the SEC Men’s Indoor, and A&M most attempt the mutual conference and national formula in men’s track and likely pose the biggest threats to Bucknam’s Hogs.
Florida sports the most nationally elite men’s athlete but the Gators’ lack of depth renders them more of a national title than SEC title threat though the league is so strong enough points could nullify for Florida to contend.
“There’s really more depth than I’ve seen in the SEC,” Bucknam said. “We’ve got our hands full. I mean it’s going to take every point that we can garner to try and pull this thing off.”
Harter said A&M, coached by Pat Henry who also coaches the men, and LSU, whose coach, Dennis Shaver, also coaches the women, loom as his team’s foremost adversaries.
He said last year’s “cushion” has been depleted with 3,000-meter steeplechase favorite Devin Clark forced out with a stress fracture for which she will appeal for a fifth-year in outdoor track having already redshirted indoors.
Harter’s men return reigning SEC Outdoor triple jump champion and 2-time NCAA Indoor triple jump champion Clive Pullen and eight other All-Americans, Kemar Mowatt, the 49.09 national leader in the 400-meter hurdles; long jumper Andreas Trajkovski and sprinters Kenzo Cotton, Eric Janise, Jamarco Stephan, Obi Igbokwe and Josh Washington and hurdler Larry Donald.
Lexi Weeks, the sophomore pole vaulter and U.S. Olympian and reigning NCAA Outdoor champion from Cabot, defends her SEC Outdoor title in Columbia, S.C.
Also returning as All-Americans are twin sister Tori Weeks, the 2017 SEC Indoor champion, and vaulter Desiree Freier, redshirted last year but a 2017 Indoor All-American, heptathletes Taliyah Brooks, Payton Stumbaugh and Kelsey Herman, also on Arkansas school-record setting 4 x 100 relay, and Leigha Brown; and sprinters Daina Harper, Kiara Parker and Brianna Swinton.
Freshman Taylor Werner won the SEC Indoor 5,000 and runs the 5,000 and 10,000 in the SEC Indoor.
Razorbacks women Nikki Hiltz and Therese Haiss are among the 2017 nationally premier in the 1,500-meter run.