ATHENS, Ga. – With the help of a silver and bronze performance in the long jump and a third-place effort in the steeplechase, the No. 11 University of Arkansas men’s track and field team sits in third place heading into the final day of competition at the 2011 SEC Outdoor Championships. The Razorbacks have 46 team points through seven events scored at the Spec Towns Track in Athens, Ga.
"(The long jump) was huge for us," head coach Chris Bucknam said. "Going against two strong competitors from Florida makes what they did today even more special. As a coach, you like how they responded with big jumps in the final round of the competition. The steeplechase was big for us, too. Rick Elliot runs a huge personal best in the biggest meet of the year so far."
Arkansas added 14 points to its team total in the long jump with second- and third-place performances by Tarik Batchelor and Raymond Higgs, respectively. Batchelor finished with a lifetime best of 26-10.5, more than a foot past his previous best. Higgs responded with a personal best of his own, a mark of 26-9; his previous best of 25-11.5 came back at Texas Relays. Both Razorbacks unleashed their best efforts of the competition during the final round of jumps.
"I knew that I was fifth or sixth going into that last jump," Batchelor said. "I just refused to finish like that as the defending indoor champion. If it took every ounce of strength I had, I knew I couldn’t finish like that. I’m also proud and very happy for Ray. As competitors and friends, we help to push each other."
In the final event of the day for the men, Rick Elliott grabbed six points with a third-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. As the team’s only representative in the race, the Razorback junior posted a personal-best time of 8:53.63; his previous best of 9:01.87 came last year at the SEC Championships in Knoxville.
The Razorbacks kicked off the day of preliminary races by advancing four runners into Sunday’s final of the 1,500 meters. Duncan Phillips was the top overall qualifier with his heat-one victory in a time of 3:50.69. Also running in that first heat, Tom Cattin-Masson qualified third with a time of 3:51.21. Arkansas picked up a pair of qualifiers with a 1-2 showing in heat two. Dorian Urley ran 3:52.72 and Omar Abdi crossed in 3:53.91 to earn their respective spots in the final.
Ben Skidmore ran a personal best and qualified sixth overall in the preliminary heats of the 400 meters. He finished second in heat six with a time of 46.58 to receive the first at-large berth into Sunday’s final. Teammate Neil Braddy finished third in heat two but missed advancing to the final by two spots. The Razorback freshman finished in a time of 47.08 in the first open 400 meters of his collegiate career.
In the 100-meter prelims, Marek Niit shook off a bad start and raced to a time of 10.29 to qualify for Sunday’s final. He was the sixth overall qualifier. Teammate LaShawn Butler, running in the same heat one, finished fourth in the race and 10th overall. He was two spots and .06 seconds out of earning a spot in the sprint final, which will have one runner each from Arkansas, Florida and LSU.
Caleb Cross entered the championships with the third-fastest time by an SEC competitor in the 110-meter hurdles but was taken out of the race at the second hurdle. Andrew Pennington finished 12th overall in the prelims with a time of 15.11 in heat one.
"Tomorrow is all hands on deck," Bucknam said. "We have to have a flawless day. You need a flawless day to beat teams like Florida and LSU. We hope to bring it out on the table one more time and pull this thing off. We’ve put ourselves in a good position, we’re contending for an SEC title and that’s all you can ask for going into the final day of the conference meet."
Sunday’s schedule of finals is set to begin with the triple jump at 11 a.m. (CT). Running event finals will get started at 1 p.m. with the 4×100-meter relay. All running finals will be streamed live at ESPN3.com from 1-5 p.m. In addition to the video stream, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com for live results and interactive blog. A tape-delay broadcast of the SEC Championships will be aired May 25 at 7 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU.