Arkansas Wins NCAA Mideast Regional; 15 Razorb
BY ANDRES FOCIL
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Top-ranked Arkansas succeeded in using the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships to build a strong team for the national meet when it had 15 athletes, including the 4×100-meter relay qualify by virtue of their finishes. They will go on to represent UA at the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Sacramento, Calif., on June 8-11, and help Arkansas contend for the program’s 41st NCAA crown.
The Hogs performances tallied 94.5 points over the weekend at the Robert C. Haugh Track Complex and also earned them their third-straight regional team title. No. 12 Auburn was in a distant second with 58 points and No. 4 LSU was third with 50.
In addition to the first-place team trophy, three event titles were picked up by the Razorbacks on Saturday night. The 4×100-meter relay grabbed gold in a school record time and sophomores Adam Perkins and Peter Kosgei won the 1,500 meters and 3,000-meter steeplechase, respectively.
“This was a good meet for us,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We have good people qualified and now we just have to stay healthy. I think we’re still one of the teams to beat.”
Arkansas’ 4×100-meter relay team was a thrill to watch as freshman Michael Grant, sophomore Wallace Spearmon Jr., and seniors Tyson Gay and Omar Brown broke a 20-year old school record with a time of 38.75. The Razorbacks successfully defended their NCAA Mideast Regional title with a new meet record and now hold the second-fastest time in the nation entering the NCAA Championships. Arizona State has the top spot with a clocking of 38.71. Sophomore Creighton Kiper will serve as an alternate for the team, just like he did last year after Brown went down with an injury before the finals.
The former UA 4×100-meter relay school record (38.81) was one of the oldest in the books, set at the 1985 Southwest Conference Championships by Fred Cleary, Roddie Haley, Mike Conley and Wallace Spearmon Sr.
The relay group had been waiting all season to put together a fast time after they had to tolerate poor weather conditions, awkward handoffs and bad seeding throughout the year and it was coming into the finals with the second-fastest qualifying time (39.43) from the prelims. The Hogs stretched the exchange zones to the max and Brown ran down the Southeastern Conference 200-meter champion, Xavier Carter of LSU (38.77), to take the tape.
“Any time you break a school record it’s exciting,” Arkansas sprints coach Lance Brauman said. “We stretched the zones on the last two handoffs and that got us where we wanted to be. Omar (Brown) ran that guy down at the end and Mike Grant ran a great first leg. He sort of ran up on Wallace (Spearmon) a little bit, so that could have gone better.”
The fantastic running action didn’t stop at the relays as Perkins lined up in the 1,500 meters. Perkins was running without teammate senior All-American Said Ahmed who was forced to scratch from the event in the morning with an injured hamstring. That injury effectively ended Ahmed’s season, but the Boston, Mass., native will return next year with one season of eligibility left in cross country and indoor track.
Perkins staged an intelligent race and ran out with South Alabama’s Harry Larubi to create an early gap from the rest of the field. With 700 meters remaining Larubi began to slow down and Perkins powered past him to take a commanding lead all the way to the finish line with a season-best winning time of 3:44.53. Indiana’s Sean Jefferson was next to cross the line with 3:45.73 for second place.
“This is my first big individual win since I’ve been at Arkansas,” Perkins said. “I give all the credit to Coach McDonnell for getting me to where I can run at the top collegiate level. It was a great race for me and I’m really looking forward to running at nationals.”
The 100-meter dash was an hour after the relay and Gay was preparing to defend his title and secure a spot for the national championships. Unfortunately, Gay was charged with a false start and was unable to compete in the race. It was his first false start he has ever had since he began running track in the eighth grade. Gay’s 100-meter time (10.19) from the SEC Championships ranked fifth nationally, but the 2004 NCAA 100-meter dash champion will have to watch the race from the stands in Sacramento, Calif. His chance to help Arkansas in the team competition will come in the relay and 200 meters.
“We felt really good after the relay, because we were underdogs in that race and no one was expecting us to win,” Gay said. “When I was set in the blocks for the 100 meters I didn’t feel comfortable, then the wind started to blow and I tried to raise my hand to stop the official from starting but it was too late. One minute I wanted to cry and the next I wanted to redeem myself. Coach Brauman told me not to worry about the 100 and just concentrate on the 200, so that’s what I did.”
“It was a big surprise when Tyson false-started,” McDonnell said. “The guy has never false-started in his life, so it was a tough break for him. He’ll run in the 200 meters at nationals and that’s ok, because he would not have run both the 100 and 200 there. I’m glad we decided to run him in both events at regionals or it could have turned out very badly.”
Senior Terry Gatson secured his spot at the national meet when he finished in fourth place in the 400 meters. Gatson had the fastest time in the prelims (45.87) and turned in a 45.59 in the finals. At the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Championships Gatson did not advance to the finals, but this year he will aim to make an impact in the very competitive event with quality performances on his resume, including a second-place showing at indoor nationals.
The 800 meters was next on the schedule and senior All-American James Hatch was representing Arkansas in the race with the second-fastest preliminary time (1:48.83). Hatch ended up crossing the line in seventh place (1:53.13). Even though Hatch finished out of the top five he will still earn a trip to the national championships as his season-best time of 1:47.35 is ninth overall nationally and is the best among at-large qualifiers.
Three Hogs got in the blocks for a loaded heat of the 200 meters. Gay, Spearmon and Brown were in lanes four, five and six, respectively and succeeded in punching their tickets to the NCAA meet with top-five showings. After suffering a false start in the 100 meters Gay was determined not to get shut out of an individual event and he went on to post a season-best time of 20.10 for second place.
His performance led a string of UA athletes to the finish line, including Spearmon who was third (20.38) and Brown who was fourth with a career-best time of 20.49. LSU’s Carter took the tape with a track record time of 20.02.
The 3,000-meter steeplechase was the final running event for Arkansas and Kosgei was the prohibitive favorite as he led the region by 10 seconds. The two-time SEC champion lived up to his billing when he dominated the race and won with a time of 8:38.55.
Junior Jose Campos was also able to earn a spot on the national championship team when he finished in fifth with a career-best time of 8:47.97. Campos qualifying was a pleasant surprise, because he was ranked 14th in the mideast with his time of 8:59.05 from the SEC meet.
Earlier in the day the 5,000 meters took place at its rescheduled time of 11:20 a.m., after lightening prevented the event from going off at 8:20 p.m. on Friday night. The Hogs put forth an excellent effort as junior Josphat Boit punched his ticket for the NCAA Championships with a fourth place finish (13:59.29) and junior Seth Summerside made himself eligible for an at-large bid when he crossed the line in sixth with a career-best time of 14:00.83. Freshman Shawn Forrest was also in the race and came in 18th (14:31.25).
“With Josphat (Boit) I expected him to qualify, but for Seth (Summerside) to do that is great,” McDonnell said. “He’s come so far, from a 4:26 mile in high school to running a personal-best every time he has run the 5,000 meters this year. Going to nationals is really going to boost his confidence and he did it in a classy field of competitors. He ran that race like a pro; he went with the front group when they broke away and stayed with them. He has the type of attitude that he’s not afraid of anyone and that’s going to take him to the next level.”
Summerside’s performance places him at sixth among at-large qualifiers and 26th on the descending order list among competitors who finished in the top eight of the west, midwest and east regions. Typically the NCAA accepts 25-28 athletes for the two sections of the 5,000 meters and will make their announcement after schools put their athletes on the declaration list.
The field athletes did exceptionally well too. Senior P.J. Brown made an impression of his own in the pole vault when he garnered runner-up honors with a height of 16-7.25. He was entering the meet tied for fifth, but his finish today guaranteed him a first-career trip to the national championships. Junior Jimmy Duke posted a clearance of 16-1.25 for ninth place.
Two-time SEC champion, senior Jaanus Uudmae, finished third in the triple jump. He matched his season-best mark of 53-7.00 on his second-to-last attempt.
Freshman Chessly Johnson fouled on his first attempt and passed on the remaining two when a bruised heel flared up and prevented him from completing the competition.
The only event that was not competed at the regional meet was the 10,000 meters. Boit, Kosgei and senior Jason Sandfort earned automatic qualifications in the event earlier in the year, bringing Arkansas’ total number of athletes ready to go to the national championships to 16.
100 meters – final
FS – Tyson Gay –
200 meters – final
2nd – Tyson Gay 20.10A
3rd – Wallace Spearmon Jr. 20.38A
4th – Omar Brown 20.49A
400 meters – final
4th – Terry Gatson 45.59A
800 meters – final
7th – James Hatch 1:53.13*
1,500 meters – final
1st – Adam Perkins 3:44.53A
DNS – Said Ahmed –
1st – Peter Kosgei 8:38.55A
5th – Jose Campos 8:47.97A
5,000 meters – final
4th – Josphat Boit 13:59.29A
6th – Seth Summerside 14:00.83*
1st – Michael Grant, Wallace Spearmon Jr., Tyson Gay, Omar Brown 38.75%A
Pole Vault – final
2nd – P.J. Brown 16-7.25A
Triple Jump – final
3rd – Jaanus Uudmae 53-7.00A
– Chessly Johnson foul
% – school record
A – NCAA Championship Automatic Qualifier
* – NCAA Championship At-Large Qualifier
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