Arkansas Set to Defend NCAA Outdoor Crown
BY ANDRES FOCIL
AUSTIN, Texas – When the Razorbacks travel to Austin, Texas for the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 9-12, they will enter the meet as the defending champions and they will have excellent chances to score points towards another team title with 15 athletes competing in 11 events. Currently, the Hogs are ranked No. 1 in the nation and they are ready to prove their status as they look to claim their 39th national title.
“We have people in every event with a chance of advancing to the final,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “At the NCAA level that’s pretty good. We’ll have to be ready mentally and we have put the Alistair Cragg thing behind us and we know he won’t be running in the 5,000. We’ve got to get our team ready to get motivated and win that championship.
“We have to take care of business early on,” McDonnell continued. “We’re not going to take anything for granted. We were supposed to win the indoor championship by 20 and we lost, but that was a good experience. I think this outdoors we’ve become a better team than indoors. Psychologically we’re a much better team, but physically we’re the same.”
Senior Alistair Cragg will be running in his final event as a collegiate athlete when he takes to the track in the 10,000 meters. Cragg earned his automatic qualifying time of 28:46.64 in the heavy rains at the 2004 Southeastern Conference Championships and his time is currently sixth in the country. In last year’s race he and former teammate Daniel Lincoln dominated the field and crossed the line together, with Cragg accepting runner-up honors with a time of 28:20.29. Fans can look for the six-time NCAA champion to post a faster performance, as he will have junior five-time All-American Jason Sandfort joining him in the race.
It will be Sandfort’s second time to compete at outdoor nationals and he is ready to put up a good showing with his auto qualifying time of 28:29.58 from the Stanford Invitational on March 26. His time is fourth in country and at the 2002 national championships in Baton Rouge, La., he recorded a time of 30:41.35 for 20th place as a freshman.
“Jason is looking as good as he ever has,” McDonnell said. “He’s a tough kid and he’s a championship type performer like Alistair.”
Junior two-time All-American Tyson Gay is representing Arkansas in three events and if he advances to the finals in all of them he will end up running in a total of eight races in just four days. UA will look for him to tally quality points in the 100 and 200-meter dashes and the 4×100-meter relay as he handles the third leg. Gay is fresh off three first-place finishes at the NCAA Mideast Regional and SEC Championships and he hopes to keep that momentum going in Austin. Gay is leading the NCAA in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.02, while his 200-meter (20.16) time is second.
“That’s a big load for him, but he can handle it,” McDonnell said. “He’s the type of athlete that he’s not too heavy. He’s a slender guy and he won’t get locked up. In the sprints we have three great sprinters and they’ll have to be heavy hitters for us in the 100 and 200.”
Joining Gay in the 200-meter dash will be sophomore Omar Brown and freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr. The three sprinters should provide Arkansas with a strong force in the event. Spearmon and Brown’s top times are fourth (20.21) and seventh (20.36) in the country, respectively.
Thomas, Spearmon, Gay and Brown have also been very successful as a relay team this season and they have a time of 39.17 that is sixth in the nation. Together they have never finished out of first place in every final heat they have raced. Freshman Creighton Kiper is serving as the alternate.
For the third-straight year Thomas will make the trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 110-meter hurdles. He came in fourth (13.56) at regionals for the automatic qualification and has the 12th fastest time in the country (13.65).
The 1,500 meters will also be loaded with talented Razorback runners. Senior Chris Mulvaney is headlining the group with a time of 3:41.25 that is sixth on the national descending order list. For two-straight years (2002-03) Mulvaney has crossed the line in second place and he will aim for a top showing in his final race in an Arkansas jersey.
Freshman Sam Vazquez is next and he is carrying a top time of 3:42.40 that earned him an at-large bid. Junior Said Ahmed was fifth (3:42.83) in last year’s race and he will look to garner a better finish and score points for the team cause.
“The 1,500 meters is an event I’m pretty excited about with Chris Mulvaney, Said Ahmed and Sam Vazquez,” McDonnell said. “Those guys are looking really good in practice, so hopefully that will be a bright spot for us.”
The 800 meters will have junior James Hatch as the lone Razorback. He was given an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships with his time of 1:47.52. Hatch has been running very strong this season and he will be depended on to finish near the top.
Junior Terry Gatson is entering the 400-meter dash with the 10th fastest time in the country (45.36). He will need to improve his time as he tries to garner valuable team points and competes in his first outdoor NCAA contest. In the 400-meter hurdles senior Maurice Bridges will hope to cap off his career with a solid finish. His personal best time of 50.34 from the SEC Championships is 14th in the nation.
The field events will also be exciting to watch with senior transfer Jeremy Scott highlighting the pole vault competition, an event Arkansas does not usually rack up points in. He came in first at the regional meet with a season-best and school record height of 18-2.75. His clearance is fourth in the country, but he has the potential to go even higher with a career-best 18-8.25 under his belt.
“Jeremy Scott in the pole vault continues to amaze me, at 6-9 to get up there as high as he does,” McDonnell said. “He hasn’t taken his full approach yet, so this is when he’s going to do it at a national meet and that should be a big plus for us.”
Sophomore Eric Brown will be seeing his first NCAA Championship competition when he represents Arkansas in the javelin. Brown put up an automatic finish of third place in mideast regional meet and has the 13th best throw (235-06) in the NCAA.
The NCAA Outdoor Championships will start for UA on Wednesday June 9, with the prelims of the 4×100-meter relay at 4:40 p.m. and will conclude at 8:25 p.m. with the semifinals of the 100-meter dash. Live results will be available on www.hogwired.com.
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