Arkansas Looking for No. 41 at NCAA Outdoor Ch
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Top-ranked Arkansas is taking one of its largest contingents ever to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 8-11 as 17 Razorbacks will make the trip to Sacramento, Calif., to compete in 12 different events. They will encounter tough competition, but have high hopes of claiming their 12th national outdoor title and 41st overall NCAA crown since 1984, including cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field.
“I think we have our largest field in quite a while as far as numbers are concerned,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We have 17. I’d be a lot happier if I was sitting here thinking that Tyson Gay was in the 100 meters, but he’s not and there’s nothing we can do about it. Without Said Ahmed in the 1,500 meters we’re losing 14-20 points right off the bat. That’s a big whack. We have the people that I think can get the job done, but it’ll be tough. There’s no doubt about that.”
The Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex has been happy hunting grounds for the Hogs. Since the NCAA meet was held there in 2003, UA has won two-straight outdoor championships and will be going for a third-consecutive first-place team finish.
Arkansas built its national championship team on May 27-28 at the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships in Bloomington, Ind., where it earned 13 automatic qualifications, including one relay. On May 31 the Hogs learned they could add more athletes to that list when three UA athletes where given at-large bids after the NCAA announced the final field of declared competitors for the meet. Senior Jason Sandfort made UA’s total 17, after he ran an automatic time in the 10,000 meters earlier in the season.
The 10K is an event Arkansas will look to score big points in with junior Josphat Boit and sophomore Peter Kosgei taking to the track as well. Boit (28:07.27) and Kosgei’s (28:08.97) times are ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, but they will have a difficult task ahead of them as they are both doubling in other events.
“I hope they’re as ready as Alistair Cragg and Daniel Lincoln were a few years ago,” McDonnell said. “The field is really pretty tough in the steeple, the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Some of the runners are from schools that don’t have a chance at the team title, and they’re just going fresh in the 5,000 and 10,000, and fresh in the steeplechase. We don’t have that option. We’ve got to double them and see what happens. But I think they’re pretty ready.”
Kosgei is competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and is fourth on the descending order list with a time of 8:35.40. He is undefeated in the event this season and aims to keep his winning streak alive at nationals through two rounds of races. Junior Jose Campos will join Kosgei after he garnered an automatic qualification with a career-best time of 8:47.97 for fifth place at the regional meet.
Boit’s season-best time of 13:43.12 in the 5,000 meters is ranked 10th in the NCAA. He automatically qualified for the event with a fourth-place showing at regionals, while junior Seth Summerside hussled to a sixth-place finish with a personal-best time of 14:00.83 and earned an at-large bid.
Three Razorbacks are also entered in the 200-meter dash and Arkansas will use its strong depth in the half-lap to rack up important points. Senior Tyson Gay, sophomore Wallace Spearmon Jr., and senior Omar Brown went 2-3-4 at the regional meet to punch their tickets to nationals.
Spearmon is the defending champion and has been leading the NCAA’s 200 meters the entire year with his time of 19.97, but the American indoor record holder will face tough competition from his own teammates.
Since Gay will not have the opportunity to defend his title in the 100 meters after he false-started at the mideast regional meet he is determined to have a strong showing in the 200. He recently improved his time in Bloomington to 20.10 and moved up to third on the descending order list. Brown also bettered his standing to eighth when he ran a personal-best 20.49.
The fabulous sprinting trio will band together for the 4×100-meter relay with freshman Michael Grant taking the opening leg and freshman Creighton Kiper serving as an alternate. The group captured first place in the mideast with a school record time of 38.75 and moved up to second in the nation. A victory would make history and give Arkansas its first ever national title in the relay.
In the very competitive 400 meters senior Terry Gatson gained automatic entry into the meet when he finished fourth. His season-best time of 45.57 from the SEC Championships is ninth on the descending order list. Senior James Hatch was given an at-large bid after he finished seventh at regionals. His top time (1:47.35) from 2005 has him at eighth in the country. Both Hatch and Gatson have showed they are capable of doing more after they posted runner-up finishes at indoor nationals.
Sophomore Adam Perkins guaranteed himself a spot in the 1,500 meters after he won the race at the mideast regional meet with a season-best time of 3:44.53. He will be Arkansas’ lone representative in the event after senior Said Ahmed season’s came to an end at regionals with a hamstring injury.
Junior Eric Brown easily claimed first place at regionals and is entering the NCAA Championships with the country’s third-best javelin mark of 248-05. With only three inches separating the top-three throwers the gold medal could be anyone’s to claim.
Senior Jaanus Uudmae finished third in the mideast, securing him an entry into the national championships. His mark of 53-7.00 is ranked eighth and Uudmae, a two-time indoor All-American, will be going for his first outdoor All-America honor.
In the vertical jumps sophomore Greg Martin was selected as an at-large participant in the high jump with a sixth-place showing and season-best height of 7-0.50. Senior P.J. Brown was also awarded with an automatic qualification when he earned runner-up honors in the pole vault. It will be the pair’s first time to compete at a national outdoor meet.
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