FAYETTEVILLE – The No. 5 University of Arkansas men’s track and field team scored 136.5 points to earn a second-place finish Sunday at the 2011 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks’ point total is their highest since scoring 141 points at the conference meet in 2006. Arkansas finished the three-day event with two event champions and one school record. The team wins came in the long jump with Tarik Batchelor and the 4×400-meter relay. The school record came by way of Kevin Lazas in the heptathlon.
"Florida has star power but you saw the way our kids scrapped and competed," head coach Chris Bucknam said. "The real turning point was in the 800 (meters) when (Chris) Bilbrew fell down. There was no harm or foul there, just got tangled up. That was an 11-point swing and a real difference maker for us. We even battled back after that to get back into it. I know that we competed right to the end and I’m proud of my team.
Arkansas’ finish at the conference indoor meet is the program’s third runner-up finish with the previous two coming during the 1996 and 2004 seasons. Since entering the SEC in 1992, the Razorbacks have finished no lower than second. Florida won the team title with 148 points while LSU rounded out the top three with 98 points.
The Razorbacks saved a bit of school history for the final race of the weekend as the 4×400-meter relay captured the program’s first-ever SEC indoor title in the event. Running in the third section of the timed final, the foursome of Ben Skidmore, Marek Niit, Chris Bilbrew and Neill Braddy held off Florida and LSU for the title, clocking in at 3:05.13. Arkansas’ performance is the fastest time in the world this year, an NCAA automatic qualifier and the second-best time in school history.
Duncan Phillips ran to a runner-up result in the mile with his time of 4:04.29, just .08 behind event winner Dumisane Hlaselo of Florida. In a race that wasn’t decided until the home stretch, the two front runners separated from the pack during the final lap. Bryan Cantero added a fifth-place finish in his first SEC Championships final. The Razorbacks’ performances added 12 points to the team’s total.
On the heels of his championship effort in the long jump Saturday, Batchelor finished fourth in the triple jump. Saving his best jump for last, the junior standout went out to 54-1.74, the second-best mark of his career. He matched his performance from a year ago at the SEC Championships where he also place fourth in the triple jump.
In the teams’ largest collection of points during the three-day competition, Arkansas racked up 21 points in the 5,000 meters. The charge was led by Eric Fernandez and his second-place performance. The sophomore distance runner clocked in at 14:00.11 with Solomon Haile behind him in third place at 14:04.68. Lane Boyer, in his final SEC Championships, finished fifth while Tom Cattin-Masson was the sixth-place runner in the event.
LaShawn Butler busted through in the 200 meters with a second-place display. The senior sprinter posted a personal-best time of 20.79, the first sub-21 clocking of his Razorback career. Butler’s time also represents an NCAA automatic qualifier, his first of the season. Niit scored three more points for the team with a sixth-place finish in the 200 meters.
The Razorbacks placed three inside the top eight in the 400 meter final. Skidmore knocked more than a second off his previous personal best and finished fourth in a time of 46.04. Running in the same timed section, Braddy was right behind his teammate, clocking in at 46.05. Niit was Arkansas’ third point scorer in the event with a seventh-place result. With their times, both Skidmore and Braddy added their name to the list of NCAA automatic performers.
"We came in ranked No. 5 and we might be the number-two team now," Bucknam said. "That’s how hard our kids worked. If you look at the national qualifiers we got this weekend, I couldn’t be more proud of the way we fought, competed and battled. We came up a little bit short but I don’t think we lost the meet. Our team got a lot better this weekend. Again, congratulations to Florida."
In the distance-medley relay, Bryan Cantero, Travis Southard, Omar Abdi and Phillips combined for a third-place finish. In the penultimate event of the weekend, the Razorbacks finished in a time of 9:50.05 to secure six points.
Raymond Higgs, Brede Raa Ellingsen and Dwayne Golbek combined for 9.5 points in the high jump. Higgs was fourth (7-0.5), Ellingsen finished sixth (6-11) and Golbek rounded out the trio in seventh (6-9). Higgs finished the competition as the top freshman in the event.
With three runners in the finals of the 800 meters, Arkansas scored eight points toward its team total. Dey Tuach was the Razorbacks’ top finisher with a fourth-place result. He was followed by teammates Drew Butler and Bilbrew in seventh and eighth place, respectively.
In the first race on the track, Caleb Cross picked up four points for the team with a fifth-place showing in the 60-meter hurdles. The Newport, Ark., native finished in a time of 8.01, a season-best clocking. He qualified fifth overall in Saturday’s prelims with a time of 8.03.
The 2011 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships will be broadcast by ESPNU on March 10 at 8 p.m. (CT). With the conference meet behind them, the Razorbacks will next compete Friday, March 4 at the Arkansas Last Chance at the Randal Tyson Track Center. For more home meet information and continued coverage, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
Download: SEC Championships Day 3 results_men.pdf