Arkansas Captures 39th NCAA Championship; Mulv
BY ANDRES FOCIL
AUSTIN, Texas – On a hot and steamy evening at the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships the Razorbacks fought off Florida to capture their 11th NCAA outdoor crown and 39th overall national title with 65.5 points. The Gators tallied 49 points for second place and the 16.5 margin of victory is the largest since 1994 when the Hogs put 83 over UTEP’s 45.
The top five teams included LSU who was third (31) and there was a three-way tie for fourth place with TCU, SMU and Ohio State who each scored 30. Austin, Texas has certainly been nice to Arkansas. Saturday’s championship is the third title UA has captured in the capital city. Team trophies were brought back to Fayetteville in 1985 and 1992.
Arkansas returned to the top of the award stand with the help of senior Chris Mulvaney when he claimed the 1,500 meters and freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr. took the tape in the 200-meter dash.
“How sweet it is,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “It was hard fought, but we still won. It’s just nice to win after all the hullabaloo with the 5,000. I think the team did a fantastic job. So many guys laid it on the line. Spearmon winning the 200 and Chris winning the 1,500 was outstanding. All in all, it was fantastic. It was a complete team effort. I don’t know one guy who didn’t lay it on the line. We haven’t had too many meets where everyone competed well. I’m happy to have No. 39.”
In his first outdoor national meet sophomore Eric Brown came through for Arkansas in a big way when he threw a school record mark of 246-03 in the javelin on his last attempt and garnered a third-place finish. The old javelin record of 241-11 was established in 1990 by Ed Kaminski and Brown also joins him as only the second Razorback athlete to earn All-America honors in the event. Most importantly, his showing earned six points to make UA’s total 31 early in the day, nearly two and a half hours before any running events were scheduled to start, giving Arkansas the momentum it would need to take the team trophy.
Brown’s toss bested his previous personal best of 235-06 and also met the U.S. Olympic Trials “A” standard of 239-06, a mark that he had been very close to the entire season. In fact, all of Brown’s best performances have been recorded at Mike A. Myers Stadium. When he posted the 235-06 mark it was at this year’s Texas Relays on April 2.
“I love it here and the conditions were great,” Brown said. “I saved my best throw for the end to make it more exciting. I told myself to go as fast as I can on my last throw at nationals. I’ve been wanting to break the school record all year.”
After having to settle for runner-up honors in the 1,500 meters for two-straight years senior Chris Mulvaney made sure that his last race in an Arkansas jersey was a winner. He posted a time of 3:44.72 to finish in first place, his second-career NCAA title. The slow, tightly packed race set up Mulvaney perfectly to use his strong kick in the last 100 meters to take the tape. He is the first Razorback athlete to gain the 1,500-meter title since Seneca Lassiter in 1998 and Mulvaney’s brilliant finish helped erase unpleasant memories of a ninth-place showing in the mile run at this year’s NCAA Indoor Championships.
“After finishing second the last two years I started to feel like I was never going to get it and this was my last chance and my last race in an Arkansas jersey,” Mulvaney said. “I felt like I let the team down during indoors and cost them a national championship, so I knew I had to try and make amends this time. This is the way I wanted to finish my Arkansas career, going out on a high.”
Junior Said Ahmed was also in the race and he matched his career-best NCAA finish when he crossed the line in fifth (3:45.66). The pairs’ performance also helped increase UA’s lead to 45 points over Florida’s 23.
The 400-meter hurdles was next on the schedule as senior Maurice Bridges was also concluding his career at Arkansas. He finished just out of scoring range in ninth place with a time of 50.99, after he posted a 50.35 in the prelims. Even though Bridges came in ninth, he still earned his first-career All-America honor since the winner, Florida’s Kerron Clement (49.05), is from Trinidad.
The 400-meter hurdles also marked the first time during team competition that the Gators took the lead when their athletes finished first, third and sixth, increasing their total to 46 from 23.
Luckily, Arkansas had two of the nation’s top sprinters lining up in the 200-meter dash with junior Tyson Gay and freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr. Coming down the straightaway Spearmon stormed past his other competitors and became the first Razorback athlete in school history to win the NCAA 200-meter championship. He posted a time of 20.12 for the victory in a tailwind of 2.3.
Gay was fresh off his historic win on Friday night in the 100-meter dash, but running in his sixth race in three days took its toll on the now five-time All-American. Gay came in fourth with a time of 20.39, after recording a school record time of 20.09 in the prelims. Their combined finishes added 15 points to UA’s team score and gave them back the lead with 60 points.
“You can’t ask for more than that,” Arkansas sprints and hurdles coach Lance Brauman said. “They’re great athletes and great kids, it’s a great combination. I’m a little surprised (Wallace won), but he’s been running fast all year, it’s just that today he was the guy that was the best and that’s what it takes. You can’t take anything away from Tyson. He’s run in six races in three days and he’s run pretty fast in all of them. He’s just a little tired. We’re real happy with a one, four finish.”
“I had never beat Tyson before, so I had to run scared out of the blocks,” Spearmon said. ” I was just trying to get the guy ahead of me. I was hoping Tyson would be right behind me. Coming down the straightaway I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew I could finish strong and I knew I was going to have to win.”
The 800 meters was the last running event for the day for Arkansas and junior James Hatch needed to put up a quality finish to seal the team title. He finished in eighth place (1:47.78), ahead of Florida’s Moise Joseph, to tack on one point, making it 61.
While the 800 meters was taking place senior transfer Jeremy Scott was competing in the pole vault. Scott was carrying the nation’s fourth-best height (18-2.75), but a sore hamstring flared up as he was attempting to clear 18-4.50 and he passed on his final try. The two-time Division III national champion tied for fourth place with a clearance of 18-0.50 to add 4.5 points to make Arkansas’ grand total 65.5.
The Razorback team had a stellar meet showing in every sense of the word. Four athletes claimed individual titles, the most earned at the NCAA outdoor meet since 1998, three new school records were set and 12 All-America honors were earned in 10 events. The 2004 meet also saw four seniors compete for the last time in their Arkansas jerseys. Those seniors included Maurice Bridges, Alistair Cragg, Chris Mulvaney and Jeremy Scott. They have all left their mark at Arkansas and between the four of them they have amassed 22 All-America accolades and nine individual national crowns.
Their amazing consistency and strong leadership will certainly be missed next year, but McDonnell will be able to count on a pool of talented underclassmen rising through the ranks. Impressive performances from three freshmen at this year’s national meet should serve as a precursor for more good things to come.
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