Arkansas Ties with Florida for Second at NCAA
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – It was a close team race the entire day, but in the end Arkansas fell short at the 2004 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships with 38 points and tied with Florida to garner runner-up honors. LSU claimed the team title for the first time since 2001 with 44.5 points. Senior Alistair Cragg was a heavy point contributor when he successfully defended his second title in two days when he took the tape in the 3,000 meters in front of a loud hometown crowd of 5,428.
Arkansas had been ranked No. 1 the entire indoor season and was the favorite coming into the meet. After the Hogs put up 23 points on Friday night they knew today would be a battle as they fielded three athletes in three events, while LSU had five athletes and one relay team qualified for the finals.
“It was poor coaching on my part and I take the blame,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “I didn’t prepare them mentally for this meet. We left a lot of points out there. It was a surprise to me, because I thought we were ready physically and mentally. We had so many areas were we just didn’t compete as well as we should have.”
The 3,000 meters was Cragg’s last indoor race as a Razorback and he made sure he went out on a high note. He clocked a time of 7:55.29 to beat out Michigan standout Nick Willis, who came in second (7:56.44). In the beginning Willis stayed right on Cragg’s shoulder and the two pulled ahead of the rest of the field by 100 meters. The race came down to the last lap, but Cragg kicked in to run to victory.
“I’ve been in coaching for a long time, but that was one of the greatest races I’ve ever seen,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “The way Alistair went out, leading every step after the 800 meters against a great runner. It was a great performance. He did exactly what we had planned.”
“I felt amazingly rejuvenated after I crossed the line,” Cragg said. “It was a tough race with Nick Willis. I overestimated him last night and underestimated him tonight. Coach Mac and I had the same idea about the race and it worked out perfectly. I’m glad Willis didn’t try to pass me. Winning (the 3,000 and 5,000) every year gets harder and harder. I think my first year was the easiest. Last year I had Boaz Chewboiywo and Adrian Blincoe. I was scared I was going to lose my last race at home.”
Cragg now has five NCAA indoor individual titles to his name, the most of any runner in Arkansas’ legendary track history. He is also only the second athlete in NCAA meet history to win both the 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs two years in a row. The late David Kimani accomplished the feat in 2000 and 2001 under the jerseys of South Alabama and Alabama.
With Cragg’s wins in the 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs he was one of two athletes at the meet to rack up 20 points for the weekend. Ohio State’s Dan Taylor also scored 20 points with his first-place finishes in the shot put and weight throw. It marks the second-straight year Cragg has earned the most individual points at the meet.
During his three-year career at UA Cragg has earned 76 NCAA meet points, the most of any Arkansas track athlete not competing in a field event, surpassing Godfrey’s Siamusiye’s 60.25 (1994-97). Additionally, Cragg’s 76 points put him in elite company in the overall scoring category as he tied for fourth with jumper Edrick Floreal (1987-90). The only former Razorback athletes that have more points are all jumpers that include Robert Howard (100), Erick Walder (106) and Mike Conley (129.75).
Arkansas saw its hopes of a 39th NCAA title fade away early after the first running event when senior Chris Mulvaney was unable to tally crucial points in the mile run. Mulvaney was one of the top competitors coming into the race as the defending national champion, but crossed the line in ninth with a time of 4:06.83. Mulvaney seemed comfortable during the first half mile, but quickly slipped to the back as Indiana’s Sean Jefferson took the tape with a time of 4:00.16.
After running in three races on Friday, sophomore transfer Tyson Gay lined up in the 60-meter dash with the hopes of increasing UA’s point total. He turned in a time of 6.63 for fourth place and five points. His performance gave the Razorbacks 28 points through 13 events. Gay earned up his second All-America honor for the weekend and became the first Arkansas athlete to earn the honor in the 60 meters.
“Tyson didn’t have a bad meet,” McDonnell said. “I was pleased with him and Wallace. I don’t know what was wrong with Chris Mulvaney. I thought he looked great all the way through 800 meters. He’s a warrior and usually finishes his races very well.”
For the weekend Arkansas had seven athletes earn nine All-America honors and now that the indoor season is in the history books the Razorbacks can look forward to the outdoor season. Its first meet on the schedule is the Stanford Invitational on March 26-27 in Palo Alto, Calif.
“We’ll be a better team outdoors,” McDonnell said. “We have a real good javelin thrower and a new pole vaulter coming in. We lost conference and nationals, but we’re still a good team.”
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