Arkansas men’s track looks to next year

The Saline Courier Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Nate Allen

FAYET­TEVILLE - By stan­dards in­herited from 42-time NCAA /84-time con­fer­ence cham­pion re­tired Arkansas men’s track/cross coun­try coach John Mcdon­nell, and stan­dards his Ra­zor­backs coached in­door and out­door track and cross coun­try teams set since 2008-2009 with 21 SEC cham­pi­onships, a na­tional cham­pi­onship and four run­ner-ups among 16 na­tional Top 10 team fin­ishes, Chris Buck­nam’s Ra­zor­backs fell way short at the NCAA Out­door Track and Field Cham­pi­onships on June 5-7 in Austin, Texas.

Yet by the hand that Buck­nam and assistants Doug Case and Mario Sategna were dealt, their Ra­zor­backs way over­achieved this 2019 In­door and Out­door sea­son.

The Ra­zor­backs placed se­cond in the SEC, by far the na­tion’s strong­est track and field con­fer­ence, both in­doors and out­doors.

Na­tion­ally the Ra­zor­backs placed sixth in the an­nu­ally awarded John Mcdon­nell Men’s Pro­gram of The Year scor­ing off their 25th, 13th, and tied for 15th NCAA Cham­pi­onship meet fin­ishes for cross coun­try, in­door and out­door track.

The 19 points Buck­nam’s men scored in Austin came the hard way. Se­nior de­cath­lete Gabe Moore, shrug­ging off the ham­string injury that de­prived him of the SEC Out­door de­cathlon ti­tle, stunned with six team points

and an All-amer­i­can de­cathlon third place.

Cameron Grif­fith, a se­nior in out­door track but re­turn­ing as a 2020 se­nior in­doors, ran a 3:42.13 third in a red-hot 1,500 me­ters and the Ra­zor­backs again scored, fourth and sev­enth, in the 4x100 re­lay run by Josh Oglesby, Tre’bien Gil­bert, Kris Hari and Roy Eji­akuekwu in 38.58, and the sev­enth-place 4x400 re­lay (3:03.40 ) run by Bryant’s John Winn, Hunter Woodhall Jalen Brown and Rhayko Schwartz.

Among those sprint­ers,

all but se­nior Eji­akuekwu re­turn to run for the 2020 Ra­zor­backs in­doors and out­doors.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of not chal­leng­ing for a team top four podium fin­ish in

Austin, yet defying pro­jec­tions fin­ish­ing as high as his Ra­zor­backs did left Buck­nam both proud and peeved.

The pride was ob­vi­ous to see his Ra­zor­backs with only in­di­vid­ual hon­ors on the line com­pete fiercely as a team just like they did at the SEC In­door and Out­door meets.

“Yeah, we did,” Buck­nam replied to ques­tion if his Hogs over­achieved in

Austin. “Those guys com­peted as hard as any cham­pi­onship

team we’ve had.”

Now comes the peeved but with pride a pur­pose.

“It’s on us as a coach­ing staff to get them more help,” Buck­nam said. “Get us back to where we’re not just con­tend­ing for cham­pi­onships but win­ning cham­pi­onships. That’s our goal.”

Of course he wishes he could have more of Moore. The se­nior amazed with a third-place per­for­mance on a bad ham­string from the May SEC Out­door se­verely lim­it­ing his train­ing for the gru­el­ing 10 events in two days de­cathlon.

“Gabe did a phe­nom­e­nal job,” Buck­nam said. “Just shows you how good an athlete and com­peti­tor he is re­ally. To be nowhere

100 per­cent, maybe 80, and nine guys drop out and he hangs in for third. And Mario (Sategna, the field events coach) did a great job get­ting Gabe through the de­cathlon.”

Buck­nam coaches

Grif­fith, the SEC In­door, 3,000-me­ter cham­pion and SEC Out­door 1,500-me­ter run­ner-up, may well be the fa­vorite for the 2020 NCAA In­door mile af­ter his NCAA Out­door 1,500 in Austin so close to Notre Dame win­ner Yared Nu­guse and Michi­gan State run­ner-up Jus­tine Kipro­tich and ahead of the rest of an all-star field.

“Cameron nearly won it,” Buck­nam said. “He beat the de­fend­ing In­door champ in the mile and beat the

de­fend­ing Out­door champ in the 1,500.”

As for the Doug Case coached sprint­ers, post­ing their sea­son bests at the NCAA Out­door, Buck­nam said, “That’s a trib­ute to them and a trib­ute to Coach Case. We placed with both re­lays loaded with fresh­men and guys com­ing back from in­juries.”

So even if his Ra­zor­backs as a whole couldn’t be a na­tional podium team, they were a team pass­ing on the want-to to next year’s team.

“I would have to say this team showed as much as heart whether In­door Con­fer­ence or Na­tion­als or Out­door Con­fer­ence, Re­gion­als and Na­tion­als be­cause they were the

high­lights of our sea­son,” Buck­nam said. “They weren’t early-sea­son meets that didn’t count. The best meets that we had were the ones that counted.”

Sub­tract­ing only Moore and Eji­akuekwu and count­ing on SEC champ for all sea­sons Gil­bert Boit, win­ning SEC Cross Coun­try, the SEC In­door 5,000 and SEC Out­door 5,000, and what Buck­nam be­lieves is a strong re­cruit­ing marks ev­i­dence his Hogs are on the way up for 2020 track.

“I hope so be­cause I may jump off a cliff if we’re not,” Buck­nam said. “We are a cham­pi­onship pro­gram and we need to get back to that.”

CRAVEN WHITLOW/NATE Allen Sports Ser­vice

For­mer Bryant Hor­net and cur­rent Ra­zor­back John Winn com­petes in a meet ear­lier this week. Winn was a big part of the 4x400me­ter re­lays suc­cess this past sea­son.

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