LEXINGTON, Ky. – The top-ranked University of Arkansas men’s track and field team won the 2012 Southeastern Conference title Sunday afternoon in Lexington, Ky. On the final day of competition, the Razorbacks collected four SEC event titles and finished the weekend with 151 points. Arkansas has now won 18 SEC indoor team titles since joining the conference in 1992. This is the Razorbacks’ third SEC indoor title under head coach Chris Bucknam.
Arkansas’ event titles came from Marek Niit in the 200 meters, Patrick Rono in the mile, Andrew Irwin in the pole vault and the distance-medley relay. As a program, the Razorbacks now have 94 SEC event titles. Combining all three aspects of the program-cross country, indoor and outdoor-Arkansas has 52 SEC team titles and 91 conference team titles, dating back to its days in the Southwest Conference.
"I’m really proud of these guys and all the credit goes to them and my staff," Bucknam said. "We’ve been working hard all year. We did a phenomenal job. I’ve been saying all year that I love how this team competes. We’re not just runners, we’re racers. I think we showed that today. My hats off to Florida because they had a great meet but we’re glad we could pull it off this weekend. We did it the right way. We had to go to the well but we didn’t have to go too deep into the well which should serve us well going into the NCAA meet."
In the first event of the day, Irwin clinched 10 points toward the Razorbacks’ team total. He finished the competition with a school-record clearance of 5.53m/18-1.75, also good for his second NCAA automatic-qualifying mark of the season. With his victory, Irwin is the first SEC indoor pole vault champion in program history and extended Arkansas’ run of having at least one SEC champion since joining the league in 1991-92. Based on marks entering the weekend, Irwin now has the No. 1 clearance in the NCAA this season.
Running in the first SEC final of his career, Rono ran to Arkansas’ second title of the day with his first-place performance in the mile. The Razorback freshman used a late kick to emerge from the lead pack and cross the finish line in a time of 4:11.54. Rono is Arkansas’ 10th mile champion and first since 2009 (Dorian Ulrey). He led a 21-point effort for the team in the event that included Scott Gillespie in third place and Duncan Phillips in fourth.
Niit backed up his 200-meter outdoor title from last year with an indoor victory at the distance Sunday. Running in the second section of the timed final, he crossed ahead of teammate Akheem Gauntlett in a time of 21.10 to win the event. Gauntlett followed in a time of 21.14 to pick up third place. Niit is the third 200-meter champion in program history, joining the list that already included Jimmy French (1992) and Wallace Spearmon, Jr. (2005).
With the team title still up for grabs, the Razorbacks clinched the win with their victory in the distance-medley relay. The foursome of Gillespie, Rono, Travis Southard and Drew Butler combined for a winning time of 9:55.21. Like he did earlier in the mile, Rono kicked into another level at the bell lap to anchor the relay and the Razorbacks to the win. Arkansas has won 14 SEC DMR titles.
Caleb Cross picked up eight points for Arkansas with a second-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. Avoiding trouble with a fall in the next lane, Cross maintained his focus to close in a time of 7.79, just .01 off the winning time. The finish for Cross is a career high at a. conference meet. Lane Boyer turned in his second runner-up finish of the weekend with his effort Sunday at 5,000 meters. The Razorback senior finished the race in a time of 14:13.76.
Arkansas added26 points between the 400 meters and 800 meters. Neil Braddy was the team’s top performer at 400 meters with a second-place finish and a time of 46.31. Running out of section one of the timed final, Ben Skidmore finishedsixth overall. In the 800 meters, Anthony Lieghio led a 3-4-5 finish for the Razorbacks with Leoman Momoh and Drew Butler following, respectively.
With the meet clinched, Arkansas’ 4×400-meter relay team of Niit, Gauntlett, Cross and Nathanael Franks combined for a time of 3:08.21, good for third-place points in the final event of the weekend.
The SEC Indoor Championships will air as part of a 90-minute show on ESPNU on Sunday, March 11 at 4 p.m. (CT). The team returns to action next weekend for its Last Chance meet in Fayetteville. For more information regarding Razorback track and field or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
SEC Championships – Day 3 Results
200m1. Marek Niit – 21.103. Akheem Gauntlett – 21.14
400m2. Neil Braddy – 46.316. Ben Skidmore – 47.01
800m3. Anthony Lieghio – 1:49.244. Leoman Momoh – 1:50.965. Drew Butler – 1:51.30
Mile1. Patrick Rono – 4:11.543. Scott Gillespie – 4:12.854. Duncan Phillips – 4:13.8810. Omar Abdi – 4:41.17
5,000m2. Lane Boyer – 14:13.768. Rick Elliott – 14:27.9611. David Flynn – 14:37.23
60m Hurdles2. Caleb Cross – 7.79
Distance-Medley Relay1. Gillespie/Southard/Butler/Rono – 9:55.21
4x400m Relay3. Niit/Gauntlett/Cross/Franks – 3:08.21
Pole Vault1. Andrew Irwin – 5.53m/18-1.75%A (PR)
% – school record || A – NCAA automatic qualifier