BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – In fourth place with one event remaining in the seven-event heptathlon, Razorback Ayden Owen did the impossible to capture his first NCAA Indoor title by 11 points on Saturday at the Birmingham CrossPlex.
Amon Kemboi supplied Arkansas with eight more points, placing second in a very close 3,000m final and the Razorback 4×400 relay finished sixth.
A total of 24 points placed Arkansas seventh in team scoring, matching their finish from a year ago. Texas won the team title with 39 points over North Carolina A&T (36), Northern Arizona (29) and Tennessee (27).
“Our goal is to be great in all three sports at the national level,” said Arkansas men’s head coach Chris Bucknam. “Our goal is to win an NCAA championship. If I had to pick between the NCAA and SEC meet, it would be the NCAA meet. That SEC meet is two weeks before, they give out a trophy, and we’re going to try to win it.”
Producing a four-second career best in the 1,000m, Owens’ 2:31.55 scored 970 points and generated a final score of 6,211 points, the second-best winning score in NCAA history.
Georgia’s Kyle Garland, the SEC champion and 2021 NCAA runner-up, had to settle for another silver medal with 6,200 points, the same exact score he produced in the 2021 NCAA Indoor heptathlon.
“Ayden is a special athlete and a great competitor,” Bucknam noted. “I’m really, really proud of his effort. For him to battle back like he did, and then run that 1,000m in which he had to beat the Georgia athlete by 13.5 seconds, and to do that with a four-second PR it’s the epitome of what a Razorback athlete is all about.
“For him to set the stage for us today was outstanding.”
Kemboi controlled the pace of the 3,000m, answering any challenge others in the field offered. Then on the final lap nearly half the field was in contention for the victory. Abdhihamid Nur of Northern Arizona edged in front for the win in 7:59.88 while Kemboi claimed second in 8:00.21 ahead of an 8:00.23 by Stanford’s Charles Hicks. Five more followed within half a second.
“There were 16 great distance runners out there and he was one of them,” said Bucknam. “He took charge from the beginning. After the first couple of laps he took over the lead and didn’t relinquish it until the final stretch. He got boxed in a little bit, and I think that hurt him, just on that last turn.
“Unbelievable performance by Amon, I’m really proud of him with that effort. It got us a big eight points.”
The Razorback 4×400 relay posted a time of 3:05.96 to place second in the final section behind Georgia’s 3:05.46, but the second heat ran faster to claim the overall win. Arkansas’ foursome included James Milholen (48.20), James Benson II (44.65), Connor Washington (46.85), and Brandon Battle (46.26).
The time of 2:31.55 by Owens in the 1,000m, which most combined event athletes dread, is the fastest ever by someone scoring over 6,200 points in the heptathlon. The previous best time in a heptathlon score over 6,200 was 2:32.67 by Oregon’s Ashton Eaton in the 2010 NCAA Indoor held in Fayetteville.
“Just the perseverance of him, it’s easy to be great when things are going well,” said Arkansas associate head coach Travis Geopfert. “The real challenge of character and showing who you are when things aren’t perfect. What are you going to do? He showed what he’s made of. It was an epic performance.
“In my 20 years of coaching I don’t know if I’ve ever seen what Ayden did in terms of execution of the plan. Then the guts to go for it. I’m so impressed with him and proud of him.”
The fastest 1,000m in a heptathlon includes Curtis Beach of Duke clocking 2:28.76 on a 6,190 tally in the 2014 NCAA Indoor while Texas A&M’s Daniel Martin posted a 2:27.30 on a 5,323 effort in the 2016 SEC Indoor.
“It’s my event and I believe in myself,” stated Owens, the UA record holder and collegiate leader with a 6,272 this season. “In all the running events it’s just me and my two legs. All I’m doing is running with my two legs and my heart. When I do that, I know I’m the best in the field.”
Career best marks in the 60m hurdles and pole vault for Owens and Spejcher improved their scoring positions from day one, where they were fifth and 12th.
Owens had the fastest hurdle time with a career best of 7.80, which moves him equal No. 7 on the UA all-time list and totaled 1,033 points in the event. Spejcher produced a best of 8.04 for the third best time among the field to add 972 points to his total.
In the pole vault, both Razorbacks cleared 15-11.25 (4.86) for 868 points.
“I went to bed last night, said my prayers, and said I would become a champion,” said Owens. “I focused event by event and didn’t worry about another other competitors or even Kyle. I wanted to fight for the Razorback on my chest, for the country on my back of Puerto Rico, and the Owens family.
“I became the NCAA champion and I’m the best in the NCAA.”
Heading into the final event, Owens (5,214) was in fourth place with Spejcher (4,989) in eighth. Owens needed to finish in front of Garland (5,393) by nearly 14 seconds.
The 6,211 total by Owens also bettered the facility record of 6,173 set in 2016 by Wisconsin’s Zach Ziemek. Behind Owens and Garland, Leo Neugebauer of Texas placed third with 6,148 points. Spejcher placed 15th with 5,682 points.
“I think when you’re on a team with history and tradition like the Arkansas Razorbacks Ayden understands a performance like that is what the University of Arkansas, the Razorback alums and fans deserve,” stated Geopfert.
“I’m also proud of the way Daniel battled with a pair of PRs today. It’s not what he wanted at the end, but the dude put himself out there and competed the whole weekend.”
Team Scores: 1. Texas 39, 2. North Carolina A&T 36; 3. Northern Arizona 29, 4. Tennessee 27, 5. Texas A&M 26, 6. Princeton 26, 7. Arkansas 24, 8. Georgia 23, 9. Oregon 22, 10. tie, Ole Miss & TCU, 20.