FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas women’s track and field team will open the indoor season today ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Arkansas is atop the coaches’ poll released earlier this week followed by Florida State, Texas A&M, Southern California and Oregon in the top five.
Arkansas’ men are ranked No. 8. Texas Tech is No. 1.
The Razorbacks’ men’s and women’s teams are hosting the Arkansas Invitational at the Randal Tyson Center. Field events begin at 12:30 p.m. with running events at 3:20 p.m.
“Well, it definitely puts you in the spotlight,” Arkansas women’s coach Lance Harter said of the No. 1 ranking. “I think what we do is tell our kids, ‘Hey, it’s a vote of confidence from my coaching peer group. But at the same time, it means nothing when we go to these track meets and compete for an SEC title or try to be on the podium at the national championships.’”
Arkansas returns two NCAA champions from last year’s national runner-up indoors — Lexi Jacobus in the pole vault and Payton Chadwick in the 60-meter hurdles — and has several other All-Americans including pole vaulters Tori Hoggard and Desiree Freier, distance runners Taylor Werner and Lauren Gregory, sprinters Jada Baylark, Janeek Brown and Kiara Parker and heptathlete Kelsey Herman.
Chadwick, from Springdale Har-Ber, redshirted the outdoors season last year because of back and foot injuries, but Harter said she’s back to full speed. She’s entered in the 60 and 200 meters today.
“Payton is always a major factor,” Harter said. “She’s phenomenal athlete, local hero and she had a great fall. Thus far, knock on wood, she’s been injury-free and pain-free.”
Arkansas freshman Katrina Robinson, who finished second at the SEC cross country championships, is out with a leg injury and might redshirt, Harter said.
Robinson sustained an injury, Harter said, while she was training at home in Australia during the Christmas break.
“Hopefully, she’ll be OK,” Harter said. “If she’s not, she’s young and we’ll redshirt her and save her for the future.”
The Arkansas men lost several key seniors from last year’s team — including All-American sprinters Kenzo Cotton and Kemar Mowatt and distance runner Jack Bruce — and will be led by junior distance runner Cameron Griffith.
“I hate to use the word ‘rebuilding,’ but we are a different program than the last couple of years,” Arkansas men’s coach Chris Bucknam said. “We’re coming off a terribly disappointing year last year where we were just stung with some key injuries.
“So I’m going to reserve any predictions right now. We want to build a championship program for the end of February and go from there. In years past we’ve had a target on our back, but I don’t know if that will be the case this year. We’re going to have to fight and claw to be really, really good.”