Bucknam, Arkansas eye second track title this year at NCAA outdoor championships

It only took one question about the prospect of winning a title for Chris Bucknam to revert to championship mode.

Bucknam led the Razorbacks' men's team to the school's 41st overall track and field championship during the indoor season in March, and he was asked Monday what it would mean to follow that up with a second straight title at this week's NCAA outdoor meet in Oregon.

"I haven't thought about it," Bucknam said, smiling.

The answer was a mirror image of Bucknam's response leading into the indoor event in March. After that championship, his first in five seasons at Arkansas, the former Northern Iowa coach relented and made it clear how often he had thought about the chase for a title at a school accustomed to winning them in droves.

The No. 2 Razorbacks are one of the favorites entering this week's meet, which begins Wednesday and concludes on Saturday. Arkansas leads the field with a team-high 20 entries, but it must fend off a group that includes top-ranked Texas A&M, the host Ducks and defending national champion Florida.

Still, Bucknam left little doubt about what his expectations are as the Razorbacks being pursuit of their 42nd national championship — the first 41 of which have all come since 1984.

"Contend for a title," Bucknam said. "I think we've got a good group going to Eugene. It's going to be a matter of executing and getting the job done. There's one intention, and that's to compete for a title."

Arkansas finished with 74 points at the indoor meet in March, 15 points ahead of the Gators. The Razorbacks haven't let up during the outdoor season, winning the Southeastern Conference meet last month — the second straight year they had swept the league's cross country, indoor and outdoor championships in one season.

Arkansas is led by pole vaulter Andrew Irwin and five-time All-American Kevin Lazas, who won the heptathlon during the NCAA indoor meet. The junior has battled wear and tear this spring, finishing second at the SEC meet, but Bucknam said he's healthy and ready to complete in this week's decathlon.

Also, the Razorbacks are hopeful of building on strong preliminary performances from Tarik Batchelor in the long and triple jumps, as well as from a deep field of sprinters and distance runners.

Bucknam said that depth gives him confidence entering this week, and he's hopeful that confidence spreads to Arkansas' 20 entries. He's also expects a carryover in excitement from March's indoor championship, one he hopes to translate into another title.

"This group of athletes are having a heck of a year, and I'm really proud of them," Bucknam said. "I'm proud of my coaching staff. This group is a special group of athletes, there's no question about it. I'm excited to get them on the track to see what happens."