FAYETTEVILLE – Tarik Batchelor got the day off to a rousing start for the No. 5 University of Arkansas men’s track and field team. The junior standout turned in a first-place performance in the long jump Saturday afternoon at the 2011 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. The team success continued as Kevin Lazas established a school record in the heptathlon and 12 qualifiers for Sunday’s event finals.
"We needed a good start from our big guys and we got that with Tarik," head coach Chris Bucknam said. "He did a fantastic job. We’re looking for him to come back and battling the two toughest guys in the country tomorrow in the triple jump.
"(Tarik) set the tone and our kids are aware of what’s going on. We were on fire there for a while with the mile, 400, 800 and 200. We got our 12 guys qualified which are more than we expected. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow because nothing is a given. Tarik set the tone and we responded with some great efforts."
Through five events scored, the Razorbacks are in second place in the team standings with 39 points. Florida holds a two-point lead heading into Sunday’s final day of competition.
Batchelor gave Arkansas its first event win of the meet with his performance in the long jump. He went out over 26 feet in his first three jumps, including the championship mark of 26-5.75 on his third attempt. With the victory, the Razorbacks have won the last two conference indoor titles in the event (Alain Bailey, 2010). Batchelor is the fourth jumper in program history to win the SEC indoor crown. In his SEC Championships debut, Raymond Higgs posted a seventh-place finish with a jump of 25-2.5, adding two points to Arkansas’ team total.
"I felt really comfortable today," Batchelor said. "The goal was to lead from the start and that’s exactly what I did. I’m really proud of my coach, proud of myself and proud of (teammate) Raymond Higgs. He did a wonderful job today and got points. We’re just trying to win the SEC title and this is a big boost for us. Tomorrow I’ll be back for the triple jump and hopefully, I can also do well in that event."
The Razorbacks’ multi-event collective effort was good for 15 points. Paced by Lazas’ runner-up performance and school-record total of 5,674 points, Arkansas also finished fourth with Terry Prentice and seventh with Matt Kirbos. Prentice finished the seven-event competition with 5,462 points while Kirbos accumulated 5,133 points over the two days. In his first SEC Championships, Lazas finished one point shy of amassing the NCAA automatic qualifying mark.
Arkansas totaled 12 points in the final race of the day, the 3,000 meters. Solomon Haile (8:04.48) led a 4-5-6 finish for the Razorbacks with Eric Fernandez (8:11.26) and Lane Boyer (8:12.09) right behind, in order. Tom Cattin-Masson (8:15.62) finished ninth overall in his SEC Championships debut.
In the 400 meters, the Razorbacks qualified three for Sunday’s final with a 2-3-8 showing in the preliminary round. Running in the opening heat, Marek Niit and Neil Braddy posted times of 45.99 and 46.03, respectively, to qualify second and third overall. Ben Skidmore was the team’s third runner to qualify for the final with his time of 46.70. He finished eighth overall in the prelims with the top nine advancing to the next round. Sunday’s 400 meter final is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. (CT).
Duncan Phillips led a trio of Razorbacks into the final of the mile. He finished second overall in the preliminary round, crossing second in his heat with a time of 4:07.73. Rick Elliott and Bryan Cantero qualified seventh and ninth overall, respectively. Arkansas’ three qualifiers are the most by one team for the event final. The mile final will be contested Sunday at 1:15 p.m.
The Razorbacks will also have three runners advance to the 800-meter final. Chris Bilbrew finished second in his heat and fourth overall while Dey Tuach and Drew Butler placed sixth and eighth overall, respectively, and move on to Sunday’s championship race. The finals of the 800 meters are scheduled for 2:15 p.m.
Niit doubled back to post a personal-best time of 20.70 in the 200 meters. He finished as the event’s second overall qualifier for the finals. Niit’s time also marks an NCAA automatic qualifier for the sophomore sprinter. He will be joined by teammate LaShawn Butler who was the fourth overall qualifier with his time of 21.00, also a personal best.
In the first running event of the day, Caleb Cross had a time of 8.03 in the 60-meter hurdles. He finished third in his heat to automatically qualify for the event final; Cross is the fifth overall qualifier. Andrew Pennington was the first runner outside of advancing to the championship race with his time of 8.17, just .02 out of that eighth-place spot. Sunday’s final is set for 12:35 p.m.
In the 60 meters, Butler finished just out of qualifying position with a ninth-place overall finish in the preliminaries. He posted a personal-best time of 6.78 in the race.
Competition at the Randal Tyson Track Center continues Sunday with the men’s triple jump at 11:30 a.m. (CT). The men’s weight throw will be the first competition of the day and will be held at 10 a.m. at the Walker Pavilion. All events contested Sunday will result in a conference champion. To follow the weekend’s action access the 2011 SEC Indoor Championships Central page at ArkansasRazorbacks.com for a video stream, live results and interactive blog.
Download: SEC Day 3 start lists.pdf