No. 2 Arkansas Ready For NCAA Showdown
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Arkansas indoor men’s track and field started the 2016 season under the NCAA podium radar, but the team has proven its strength with the passing of each week. A nationally-ranked top-10 team during the preseason, the Razorbacks head into the 2016 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship with the most qualifiers (12) in the country and ranked No. 2 in the USTFCCCA polls.
A member of arguably ‘the strongest track and field conference in the nation,’ Arkansas has led the Southeastern Conference in rank since their jump from No. 8 to No. 1 in week four of the season. At the top of the leaderboard for the last three weeks, the Razorbacks look to exceed expectations once again and best the new No. 1 and defending champion Oregon Ducks at the national indoor meet this weekend.
Head coach Chris Bucknam has amassed one of the most diversified group of qualifiers with entries in sprints, distance and field events. An advocate of collaborative team effort, Bucknam, along with assistant coaches Doug Case and Travis Geopfert, have succeeded in enhancing the raw talent of their veterans and newcomers alike.
NCAA Qualifiers A-Z
Naturally gifted in sprints, Kenzo Cotton has taken his abilities to the next level in his sophomore season. A four-time All-American in relays during his freshman year, Cotton is now a double qualifier individually for the Razorbacks in the 60 and 200-meter dashes. Cotton has personal bests of 6.62 and 20.66 in the 60 and 200, respectively. His times place him inside the NCAA top-10 in both events. A product of La Vista, Nebraska, Cotton is the first Razorback to gain entry into the national meet for both short sprint events since J-Mee Samuels in 2008. Samuels picked up points for Arkansas in both events with a third place finish in the 200 (20.67) and a fifth place finish in the 60 (6.64).
Northwest Arkansas native Gabe Gonzalez was destined to attain distance success at Arkansas having been coached in high school by Razorback great Seneca Lassiter. Coming off a solid effort during the cross country season, Gonzalez merely skimmed the surface of his full potential at the Iowa State Classic where he shaved 14 seconds from his PR in the 5K to clock the 10th best time in the nation with 13:45.98. Most recently, the senior helped Arkansas win its 21st SEC indoor title scoring a combined seven points off performances in the 3K and 5K.
One of the most sought after quarter-mile high school talents in the class of 2015, Obi Igbokwe has proven his worth in his first season donning cardinal red and white. Igbokwe is one of three freshmen to qualify for the NCAA 400-meter dash and the second-best newcomer in the event among SEC competitors. Out of The Woodlands, Texas, Igbokwe holds a PR of 46.29 from the 400-meter prelims at SECs, his fourth-consecutive improvement since his first 400-meter dash at the Razorback Invitational on Jan. 30.
Averaging four first team All-American honors per year since 2013, senior Jarrion Lawson’s athletic prowess is undeniable. Lawson has placed in the NCAA indoor top-five three years in a row – his lowest place of fourth from his freshman year. The second best indoor long jumper in Arkansas history, Lawson’s 2016 best of 8.17m/26-9.75 is the seventh-best mark in the world this year. Arkansas has won the NCAA indoor long jump title nine times between six athletes. A win for Lawson this year would make him the third Razorback to lay claim to multiple golds in the event alongside Mike Conley (two) and Erick Walder (three). In addition to his skill in the jumps, Lawson has one of the best performances at 60 meters among collegians this year. Along with teammate Cotton, Lawson owns a share of the Arkansas 60-meter dash record with his PR of 6.62.
Part of the Razorbacks’ SEC champion jumps crew, Ken LeGassey looks to cap his final indoor meet with a top-eight performance in the high jump at the NCAA Indoor Championship. Arkansas has had representation at indoor nationals in the high jump in three out of the last four years. The Razorbacks last collected points in the event during their championship run in 2013 off a 2.23m/7-3.75 clearance by Anthony May who placed eighth. LeGassey has a career best of 2.20m/7-2.50 which earned him a spot at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Championship last spring.
The only other Razorback freshman to qualify for nationals, Carlton Orange also did so without the assistance of a relay. Orange is part of an NCAA elite group of four fast freshmen this season who all own times under 1:47.50 at 800 meters. A 2015 PanAm Junior champion at 800 meters, Orange has experience competing in a high-pressure race. The Memphis, Tennessee native has high expectations for his national championship debut looking to finish among the top-five in the country this weekend at the Birmingham Crossplex.
Primed to join Arkansas’s legendary list of top-10 triple jumpers, Clive Pullen checks in with the fourth-best NCAA performance in the event with 16.55m/54-3.75. Following a similar trajectory as fellow horizontal jumper Lawson, the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championship will mark Pullen’s third-consecutive appearance at the national indoor competition. A top-10 finisher in 2014 and 2015, the Kingston, Jamaica native looks to capitalize off his momentum from the SEC meet and contribute to his teams’ bid for a podium finish. Fellow Jamaican Tarik Batchelor was the last Razorback to score in the event collecting six points for Arkansas with a third-place finish at the indoor national meet in 2013.
The most recent Razorback to gain entry to nationals, Danish phenom Andreas Trajkovski made his presence felt in a big way. A widely-known long jumper on the European circuit, Trajkovski found a place on the NCAA long jump leaderboards off his first mark (7.87m/25-10) at the SEC Indoor Championship. Tied for seventh in the nation with that distance, the two-time NJCAA long jump champion is ready to shake things up at his first Division I national championship.
Another outstanding recruit out of the NJCAA, Marqueze Washington (fourth, 400m) is one of three Razorbacks ranked inside the top-five of their respective events (Lawson, long jump and Pullen, triple jump). Washington earned his spot at the national meet with a 45.72 performance in the 400-meter dash at the Arkansas Qualifier. Never lacking for strong quarter-milers, Arkansas has had steady representation in the event on the national level since 2010. A product of West Monroe, Louisiana, Washington has the potential to finish nationally among the top two in the event – a place Arkansas hasn’t attained since Terry Gatson took home the silver at the 2005 NCAA Indoor Championship.
The Razorbacks will also look to recapture their spot atop the 4×400-meter relay throne heading into the weekend as the No. 6 team in the country. Arkansas collected 10 points from the relay in 2012 and 2013 breaking the NCAA record during the latter. The Razorbacks will contend with (in rank order) Florida, Baylor, Texas, LSU, Texas Tech, Ohio State, Nebraska, Purdue, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Tennessee on Saturday, March 12 in the final event of the indoor season.
The 2016 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championship will be held on March 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama at the Birmingham Crossplex. Ticket and meet information can be found at the NCAA Championship Central.
ESPN3 will stream the meet live on March 11 starting at 5:25 p.m. Central time and March 12 starting at 3:55 p.m. Central time. A re-air of the championship will take place on Sunday, March 13 starting at 6 p.m. Central time on ESPN2 and also Wednesday, March 23 starting at 9 p.m. Central time on ESPNU.
For more information on Arkansas track and field including in-meet updates, follow @RazorbackTF on Twitter.