Razorbacks win NCAA women’s track national title in coach’s first year

First-year Arkansas coach Chris Johnson's Razorbacks swept the NCAA track and field titles this year.

The Razorback has long been a feared mascot in the world of collegiate track and field. John McDonnell and Lance Harter constructed legendary careers in the Ozarks as longtime championship coaches in men’s and women’s track and field and cross country respectively.

Current Arkansas men’s track, field and cross country coach Chris Bucknam has also had his share of success since taking over from McDonnell in 2008.

However, as storied as their careers were and are, none of them accomplished what first-year Arkansas women’s track and field coach Chris Johnson did over the weekend. His Razorbacks swept the NCAA track and field titles in 2024, winning the indoor title in March and capturing the outdoor title Saturday held at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. in his first year as head coach.

That’s an incredible feat. It was Arkansas’ ninth women’s track and field national title combined in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field, and their third in outdoor title, also winning in 2016 and 2019 under Harter.

Certainly Harter left a thriving program in Johnson’s hands, but he and the Razorback women took that baton and never looked back.

The Razorbacks’ 1,600-meter relay squad of Amber Anning, Rose Effiong, Nickisha Pryce, and Kaylyn Brown set a collegiate record by running a blistering time of 3:17.96 to lock up the championship Saturday, nudging SEC rival out of the way for the title 63-59 in the team tally.

The Florida Gators held a 53-49 lead over Arkansas going into the 1,600, the day’s final event. The expectation was for the Hogs leapfrog the Gators in the event, but they had to actually do it, knowing what was at stake.

The quartet had set the school record by running 3:21.92 on March 25 at home, which was the sixth-fastest time in the world. They blitzed that time Saturday to win the event and edge past the Gators, which did not field a team in the event. The Tennessee Vols finished about 6 seconds behind the Hogs with a time of 3:23.32.

It was a dominant display of power in a clutch situation.

That performance came on the heels of the quartet dominating the 400-meter run with an astounding 1-2-3-4 finish by Pryce, Brown, Anning, and Effiong to lock up 29 points in the event. Pryce set a new collegiate record by covering the distance in 48:39, while her teammate Brown equaled Arkansas’ old record in the event of 49:13 accomplished last year by Britton Wilson.

Rachel Glenn’s third-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles added 6 points to Arkansas’ cum. The Hogs 400-meter relay team of Airane Linton, Effiong, Brown, and Anning added 5 points. Laura Taborda collected 4 points in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Destiny Haven gained 3 points in the 100-meter hurdle. San Jallow garnered 3 points in the 800-meter run. Sydney Thorvaldson earned 2 in the 10,000-meter run.

Unfortunately, Bucknam’s Razorbacks fell short of their goal of bringing home similar hardware on Friday with a seventh-place finish in the NCAA Men’s Track and Field Championships, also held at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

The Razorbacks totaled 30 points, which was a solid showing, but conference rivals Florida and Auburn battled it out for the title until the bitter end with the Gators topping the Tigers by the slimmest of margins, 41-40. USC placed third with 35 points, followed by Alabama at 32, Texas A&M at 31, and Houston at 31.5, just ahead of the Hogs.

Arkansas swept the SEC triple crown this year, which gave them hope of garnering another national title, but it was not the Razorback men’s time. A less than great start in the prelims on Wednesday left the Hogs without the participants they needed to bring home the title.

Patrick Kiprop was in second place in the 10,000-meter run before being tripped from behind by another runner. He was in line to score 8 to 10 points in the event before taking the tumble. Incredibly he got up and finished the race in eighth to score 1 point for the Hogs.

A groin injury kept Wayne Pinnock from possibly winning his fourth NCAA long jump title. He battled through the pain to finish fourth with a jump of 26-2 and 1/4. Phillip Lemonious, who won the 110-hurdles last year, did not make the finals this year after a slow get-off in the semis. James Benson had the sixth best time coming into the 400, but did not make the finals.

The Razorback performed admirably on Friday with Romain Beckforid winning his fourth-consecutive high jump title (indoor and outdoor the past two years), and Arkansas’ 1,600-meter relay team of T.J. Tomlyanovich, Lance Lang, Steven McElroy and Benson placed second with a time of 3:58.83 for an Arkansas record in the event.

Lang finished ninth in the 100 and eighth in the 200, which were just 90 minutes apart. Jack Turner and Yariel Soto Torrado scored in the decathlon finishing in fourth and eighth place respectively.

While Bucknam has won two NCAA Indoor national titles in 2013 and 2023 and an incredible 32 SEC titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, an outdoor national title has eluded him so far. His outdoor team’s were oh so close with runner-up finishes in 2013, 2016, and 2023.

While it’s little consolation at the moment, McDonnell won about 10 indoor track and field national titles before the legendary coach finally broke through for an outdoor title in 1985. After that, McDonnell’s Hogs went on to win nine more outdoor national titles.

The goal of an outdoor title is still attainable for Bucknam and his Hogs. Once they get the monkey off their backs, who knows how many more they might win?

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.