NAMPA, Idaho - With the help of a pair of NCAA even titles during the weekend, the No. 2 University of Arkansas men's track and field team turned in a national runner-up finish at the 2012 NCAA Indoor Championships on Saturday at the Jacksons Track in Nampa, Idaho. The Razorbacks finished the two-day meet with 47 points to their credit. In the final event of the weekend, Arkansas won the 4x400-meter relay to cap its weekend.
The team's second-place performance is its highest under head coach Chris Bucknam and the program's second top-five national indoor finish during his tenure. Arkansas finished fifth at the 2010 meet. In addition to the Razorbacks' victory in the 4x400-meter relay, the Razorbacks' other NCAA title of the weekend came from Andrew Irwin in the pole vault Friday. The program now has 55 NCAA indoor event titles.
"I couldn't be prouder of this team and our coaches," Bucknam said. "We've put in a lot of work to get back to the top of the mountain and it's really paying off. I've said all year that our guys don't just run, they race. They competed hard all weekend and performed at the highest level. We lost to a very good Florida team but I'm very happy with how we're building. We have the NCAA meet back in Fayetteville next year so we hope to do even better in front of our home crowd."
Arkansas' win in the 4x400-meter relay is the first NCAA title in the event in program history. The foursome of Marek Niit, Akheem Gauntlett, Ben Skidmore and Neil Braddy combined for a time of 3:04.92. With their effort, the Razorbacks established a new facility record for the Jacksons Indoor Track. Arkansas' time was the second fastest in the NCAA this season, trailing only its own 3:03.76 run during the Tyson Invitational. The Razorbacks were the only team to dip below 3:05.00 during the indoor campaign.
Earlier in the day, Niit secured five points for Arkansas with his fourth-place finish in the final of the 400 meters. He finished second in section one and ended up as the fourth-fastest competitor overall. Niit ran to a season-best time of 46.04 in the event final.
Running in the first NCAA final of his career, Caleb Cross turned in a sixth-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles for the Razorbacks which added three points to the team total. The Newport, Ark., native clocked a time of 7.70 for the program's highest indoor finish in the hurdle event since Michael Thomas finished fourth in 2003. Cross established a personal-best time of 7.67 in Friday's semifinal.
The Razorbacks' first points of the day came from the duo of Kevin Lazas and Gunnar Nixon in the heptathlon. Lazas finished in third place overall with a personal-best score of 5,930 points while Nixon was eighth overall with 5,859 points in his NCAA Championships debut. With his finish, Lazas improved upon his 14th-place finish at last year's national meet.
Lazas posted personal bests Saturday in the 60-meter hurdles (8.62) and pole vault (5.20m/17-0.75). Lazas finished the weekend with three personal bests having established a new mark in the long jump (7.45m/24-5.5) on day one. Nixon closed out his competition with a personal-best time of 2:39.08 in the 1,000 meters, good for third place in the event. He also set a new best on day one with this performance at 60 meters (7.09).
Making his debut at the NCAA Championships, Noah Kittelson finished in 15th place in the high jump. He finished the competition with a clearance of 2.10m/6-10.75. Kittelson, the only freshman in the high jump field, ends his indoor season with a personal best of 2.22m/7-3.25, set last week at the Arkansas Last Chance meet.
A tape delay broadcast of the NCAA Indoor Championships will air Sunday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU. The 2012 SEC Indoor Championships will air Sunday as part of a 90-minute show on ESPNU at 4 p.m. For more information regarding Razorback track and field or University of Arkansas athletics, please visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
NCAA Championships - Day 2 Results
1. Florida - 52 points
2. ARKANSAS - 47 points
3. Arizona - 41 points
4. Arizona State - 31 points
5. LSU - 27 points
4. Marek Niit - 46.04 [5 points]
60m Hurdles (final)
6. Caleb Cross - 7.70 [3 points]
4x400m Relay (final)
1. Niit/Gauntlett/Skidmore/Braddy - 3:04.92 [10 points]
High Jump (final)
15. Noah Kittelson - 2.10m/6-10.75
Heptathlon (Day 2)
3. Kevin Lazas - 5,930 points (PR) [6 points]
9. 60mH - 8.35 (PR) - 896 points
3. Pole vault - 5.20m/17-0.75 (PR) - 972 points
10. 1,000m - 2:50.85 - 757 points
8. Gunnar Nixon - 5,859 points [1 point]
10. 60mH - 8.39 - 886 points
11. Pole vault - 4.60m/15-1 - 790 points
3. 1,000m - 2:39.08 (PR) - 884 points