ATHENS, GA (UofA) - With the help of three event titles Sunday, the No. 11 University of Arkansas men's track and field team won the 2011 SEC Outdoor Championships team title at the Spec Towns Track in Athens, Ga. The Razorbacks finished the four-day conference meet with 157.50 points to secure the 16th SEC outdoor title in program history and 25th overall conference crown, dating back to Arkansas' days in the Southwest Conference. The team win is the Razorbacks' first since 2009, and second under head coach Chris Bucknam.
On the final day of competition, Dorian Ulrey won the 800 meters and 1,500 meters to lead a big collection of points in the two events for the Razorbacks. Ulrey is the third Arkansas runner to pull off the 800/1,500 double in SEC competition, joining former Razorback standouts Seneca Lassiter (1998, 1999) and James Karanu (2000). Ulrey was named the winner of the SEC Commissioner's Trophy as the top men's scorer with 25 points; in his third race of the day, Ulrey finished fourth in the 5,000 meters.
Marek Niit won the team's third individual title of the day with a championship run in the 200 meters. The win is the second 200-meter SEC title in Razorback history, and the first since the 1995 season. Niit joins Derrick Thompson as the only other Arkansas sprinter to take first in the event. With the victories by Ulrey and Niit, the Razorbacks now have 98 SEC event titles.
"Some teams are under the gun for a few weeks of the year," Bucknam said. "Being part of the Razorback program, these guys are under the gun 365 days of the year because of the legacy of what's gone on here in the past. We could have done one of two things. We could have crumbled under it, or we could rise to a new height. We choose to go after that high bar, and that toughens us to be able to accomplish great things."
The Razorbacks clinched the team title with a collective 15-point effort in the 5,000 meters, the second-to-last event of the meet. Eric Fernandez ran to his second runner-up performance of the weekend, finishing the race in a time of 14:00.23. Ulrey, on the heels of his victories in the 800 and 1,500 meters earlier in the day, finished fourth in 14:18.88, and Rick Elliott rounded out the trio of Razorbacks with a time of 14:29.72, good for seventh place. At that point, Arkansas led Florida by 16.5 points, 149.50-133, with just the 4x400 relay to go.
Off a second-place effort by the 4x100-meter relay team of Caleb Cross, Neil Braddy, LaShawn Butler and Niit, the Razorbacks began to pick up the points in bunches with a sweep of the top three spots in the 1,500 meters, good for 24 points. Ulrey led the charge with a time of 3:46.70 and was followed by teammates Duncan Phillips in 3:49.09 and Tom Cattin-Masson in 3:49.12.
"This shows everyone that we're putting in the right kind of work," Ulrey said. "This is what we came here to do-rack up a lot of points in the 1,500 and win the team title. That race went about as well as it could. It feels good to experience this as a team. We train and push each other all year, and this is what that work amounts to."
Another crucial bunch of points came with the team's 1-2-3-7 showing in the 800 meters. Ulrey completed his championship double with a first-place finish in 1:50.13. He was once again trailed by Phillips who crossed in 1:50.61. Chris Bilbrew finished third in 1:51.35 while Leoman Momoh picked up two points with a seventh-place finish in 1:55.77.
Niit and Butler put Arkansas in position to clinch the team title with their respective performances in the 200 meters. With a late surge over the final third of the race, Niit ate up the runners in front of him and finished first in a time of 20.44, matching his time from Friday's prelim. Butler added five points to the team's total with a fourth-place finish. The Razorback finish crossed the line in a time of 20.66, a personal-best time. Earlier in the day, Niit finished fifth in the 100 meters, a race in which the top seven were separated by just .09 seconds.
The Razorbacks also placed four in the top eight of the high jump, led by Noah Kittelson. The Razorback freshman finished fourth with a day's best clearance of 7-0.5. Teammate Raymond Higgs finished at the same height but was knocked down two spots into a tie for sixth place, based on jumps. Brede Raa Ellingsen and Dwayne Golbek tied for eighth with a 6-11 clearance.
In the first event of the day, Tarik Batchelor finished in sixth place in the triple jump. Jumping in flight one, the junior field standout had a best mark of 52-0, the second-best jump of his career. The Razorbacks picked up another point in the discus-one of three field results for the team-from Justin Holmes. He finished in eighth place with a toss of 167-2.
With the victory in hand, the Razorbacks finished fifth in the 4x400-meter relay. The foursome of Braddy, Bilbrew, Cross and Travis Southard posted a final-event time of 3:09.34. The rest of Arkansas points came from Andrew Pennington with a seventh-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles and Ben Skidmore with an eighth-place effort in the 400 meters.
"This is exactly the kind of day we needed to win the title," Bucknam said. "Florida is a great team, and LSU and Georgia were hanging around all day. This is a great conference. We knew that we'd have to have all hands on deck and we got it done."
With the SEC Championships in the books, the remainder of the Razorbacks' championship season includes the NCAA West Prelims (May 26-28) in Eugene, Ore., and the NCAA Championships (June 8-11) in Des Moines, Iowa. For more information and continued coverage, log on to ArkansasRazorbacks.com.