SEC brings firepower to championship
Arkansas, Florida heavy favorites to bring home national title
The Arkansas Razorbacks have been the top Hogs throughout the 2013 men's indoor track and field season, and this weekend they have a chance to end the season as national champions on their home track.
The Razorbacks, who have held the top ranking all season, have 19 entries, including two who enter as the top seed and seven who rank in the top four, going into the 2013 NCAA DI Men's Indoor Track and Field Championship on Friday and Saturday at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark.
"We are exactly where we hoped we'd be," said Arkansas head coach Chris Bucknam, whose Razorbacks finished second at the 2012 indoor championships.
Also in good position, however, are the three-time defending national champion Florida Gators. With a strong second-place showing in the SEC championships, the second-ranked Gators narrowed the gap in the USTFCCCA rankings to the closest its been all season.
"We pride ourselves in being our best at this time of year," Florida head coach Mike Holloway said. "If people pay attention to our program, we usually do our best at the conference and national meets."
Both SEC schools pack some firepower. For Arkansas, the 800-meters could be a big-points event, with four Razorbacks qualifying for nationals, including top-ranked senior Leoman Momoh and third-ranked freshman Tomas Squella. Senior triple-jumper Tarik Batchelor, who suffered a career-threatening patellar tendon rupture last January, came back well ahead of expectations and has the nation's leading triple jump going into nationals.
"I'll tell you what, he still hasn't utilized his full approach yet, I know that," Bucknam said. "And so I would have to say he is still in the comeback phase. He's leading he country, and he hasn't used his full approach yet."
For Florida, the big guns come in the form of jumpers Omar Craddock and Marquis Dendy as well as hurdler Eddie Lovett. Craddock, a senior, is the defending indoor and outdoor champion in triple jump. He comes into the weekend ranked second. Meanwhile, sophomore Dendy is ranked fourth in the triple jump and leads all qualifiers in the long jump. Junior Lovett is the top qualifier in the 60-meter hurdles. In total, Florida has 11 entries at nationals, including the 4x400 relay.
"I feel very good about where we are," Holloway said. "We qualified in just about everything we could. I think we maximized our scoring potential."
Outside of the SEC juggernauts, several marquee names are back in 2013.
One of the closest battles is likely to come in the high jump. Senior Erik Kynard Jr., the 2012 U.S. Olympic silver medalist and back-to-back outdoor NCAA champion from Kansas State, leads all qualifiers at 2.33m (7-7 3/4). If he's to win his first NCAA indoor title, though, he will have to outjump Canadian Olympic bronze medalist Derek Drouin, a senior at Indiana, who enters nationals with a qualifying height of 2.32m (7-7 1/4).
Also back in 2013 is Arizona junior Lawi Lalang, of Kenya, the defending 3,000 and 5,000 champion. He is the top qualifier in the 3,000 and the second qualifier in a scorching mile field in which all 16 qualifiers have run sub-four minutes this year. Defending mile champion Chris O'Hare, a senior from Tulsa, is the top qualifier.
Senior Jordan Clarke, of Arizona State, who swept the indoor/outdoor shot put titles in 2012 and also won the '11 outdoor shot put title, is a heavy favorite in that event. His qualifying distance of 20.59m (67-6 3/4) is more than half a meter farther than the second-place qualifier.
Oral Roberts senior Jack Whitt, the defending outdoor champion in pole vault, is the top qualifier. He should have plenty of competition in the event as second qualifier Andrew Irwin of Arkansas is the defending indoor champion.
Meanwhile, Andrew Ziegler, the Virginia Tech senior who won the past two outdoor hammer throw titles, is the top qualifier in weight throw. With a .14-meter advantage against the next qualifier, the Dischingen, Germany, native is a favorite after finishing third, second and third and his first three indoor nationals.
Other 2012 indoor champions who are back in 2013 are senior Ameer Webb, of Texas A&M (200-meters; qualified fifth), and junior Kendall Spencer, of New Mexico (long jump; qualified 16th). Indiana senior Andrew Bayer won the 2012 outdoor 1,500 meters and qualified this weekend 10th in the 3,000 and also in Indiana's DMR.