ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Fact against fact, the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Track and Field Indoor Championship appears a battle of Southeastern Conference titans.
Top-ranked Florida and second-ranked Arkansas seem headed for a showdown. Or, a surprise team may emerge to vanquish both. Whatever the outcome, expect fierce competition Friday and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, N. M. And, that Gators and Razorbacks won’t steal the entire show. Plenty of interesting storylines surround certain events and the anticipation of individual performances.But, the biggest question is whether Florida can hold on to the top spot or whether Arkansas can repeat as indoor champs.
Florida tops the U. S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s latest poll (March 10). Arkansas, the newly-crowned SEC men’s indoor champion, is second. Texas A&M is third, Wisconsin is fourth and Arizona is ranked fifth.
Regardless of rankings, the Razorbacks enter the national meet with considerable momentum, having won their 20th SEC title in 23 years on March 2 in College Station, Texas, where they defeated the runner-up Gators by a 121-106 score. They also have won a NCAA-record 20 indoor titles, a run that began in 1984.
It was all Arkansas in last year’s NCAA indoor championships. The Hogs piled up 74 points -- the most by any indoor champion since the 1994 NCAA champion Arkansas squad scored 94 in 1994. They won only three events -- the pole vault, heptathlon and 4X400 relay -- but scored consistently high to boost their point total.
Florida finished second with 59 points, and will be making a run to reclaim an NCAA indoor crown this week. The Gators won three consecutive indoor titles from 2010-12 until Arkansas’ 2013 triumph. Oregon won the 2009 NCAA men’s indoor title.
Individually, Arizona senior Lawi Lalang will defend his 2013 NCAA indoor titles in the mile and 3,000 meters. He also is entered in the 5,000. An Eldoret, Kenya native, Lalang won the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the 2012 national indoor meet. He enters the 2014 NCAA indoor meet ranked first in the mile and 3,000 and ranked fourth in the 5,000 behind top-ranked Wisconsin senior Reed Connor.
Florida senior Eddie Lovett will defend his 2013 NCAA indoor title in the 60 hurdles. A year ago, he won that event with a meet-record time of 7.50, which, at the time, set a new school record and the fourth fastest time in NCAA history. Earlier this month, Lovett became the first person in SEC history to win four consecutive 60 hurdle titles.
Lovett’s teammate Marquis Dendy, a junior, will defend his 2013 long jump title. He ranks fourth in the event behind top-ranked Corey Crawford, a junior from Rutgers.
Arkansas is the defending champion in the 4X400 relay. The Hogs currently rank fifth, behind top-ranked Texas A&M.
Arkansas junior Andrew Irwin will seek his third consecutive NCAA indoor pole vault title. He ranks third. Mississippi junior Sam Kendricks is ranked first.
Irwin’s teammate Kevin Lazas, a senior, seeks his second consecutive NCAA indoor heptathlon title. He ranks second, behind top-ranked Curtis Beach, a senior from Duke.