LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Arkansas Razorbacks men’s track and field won the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships at Louisville’s Cardinal Park on Saturday. The Razorbacks picked up four individual titles.
"Our guys came in with a professional attitude and they got the job done," head coach Chris Bucknam said. "We got a lot of things accomplished today and I think we are in better shape than we were two weeks ago at the SEC meet. We still have our work cut out for us at the NCAA Championships but we did some things this weekend to help ourselves along. I know our coaching staff and our team are thrilled to be competing at the NCAA Championships on our home track in Fayetteville."
Arkansas automatically qualified seven student-athletes for the NCAA Championships on Saturday, in addition to Friday’s four auto qualifiers. Arkansas also has a chance to add four entries using at-large bids.
In the team race, Arkansas won its third NCAA Mideast Regional title and its first since the 2005 season. The Razorbacks topped LSU, 90-83. Kentucky finished third with 46 points.
In seven years of the current regional system (2003-09), the Razorbacks have won 14 individual regional titles, including the four won in Louisville this weekend. The Razorbacks won their first-ever regional titles in the 800 meters and the long jump, their second triple jump title and their third 1,500-meter title.
Senior Nkosinza Balumbu won his second-straight NCAA Mideast Regional title in the triple jump. His best jump of the day measured 53-7.75. Freshman Tarik Batchelor, qualifying in his second event, earned his second bronze finish of the weekend with a mark of 52-8.75. Because of windy conditions for the first and second-place finishers, Batchelor’s mark stands as a new Cardinal Park record.
"I wanted to come out here and punch my ticket to Nationals, that’s my number one goal," Balumbu said. "Nationals is a thrill. I did pretty well but I had one that got away from me and had a small foul on a big jump. It’s okay though because I’d rather get that (big jump) in atNCAAs than today."
"Arkansas has a tremendous tradition in the jumps and we have that hanging over our heads all season," assistant coach Dick Booth said. "I think this weekend we finally discovered what we are really capable of. It’s all finally clicking for us. Mychael Stewart and Alain Bailey had great PRs in the long jump. Tarik Batchelor made big strides in the triple jump and Nkosinza Balumbu had another consistent performance. I’m not surprised at all; I’m excited it’s finally clicking."
Junior Dorian Ulrey won his third 1,500-meter race of the season and his second in championship competition. He moved into first coming off the final turn to win Arkansas’ third NCAA Mideast Regional 1,500-meter title. Punching his ticket to the NCAA Championships, he clocked a time of 3:48.91.
"I knew I had it coming down the final stretch," Ulrey said. "It was a slow pace so we had to be ready to move and kick. Our only disappointment is not getting (Michael Chinchar) in automatically. He still has a good chance at an at-large bid. I’m excited about this regional title and I’m excited to run at the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville."
The regional meet worked out better for senior Andy McClary in 2009. After being disqualified in 2008, McClary earned a bronze finish to automatically advance to the NCAA meet. Despite being hampered by a sore calf after a rough prelim round, he put together a strong finish and clocked a time of 3:49.18.
"Today’s race was about what I expected," Andy McClary said. "My calf was hurting pretty bad, especially during warm-ups. We started slow but it picked up. We are pretty confident in our ability to kick down the home stretch."
Sophomore Michael Chinchar earned a sixth-place finish and will be on the bubble for the NCAA meet. He clocked a 1,500-meter final time of 3:50.34.
Sophomore Chris Bilbrew won his first major title in a Razorback uniform. He took the tape in the 800 meters with a personal-best time of 1:48.30. Dropping nearly one second off his PR, he automatically punched his ticket for the NCAA Championships.
"My coach and I though it over and he just told me to stay in close to the front and said the key was the third 200 (meters)," Bilbrew said."So I decided to stick with him until then and I would still have a kick left. So after the last 200 meters I just gave it everything I had and came out the champion."
Senior Alex McClary finished seventh overall in the 800 meters with his time of 1:54.12. He will likely earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships with his season best and No. 6 NCAA time of 1:47.78.
For the second-straight season, senior Scott MacPherson automatically earned a trip to the NCAA Championships. Clocking a 3,000-meter steeplechase time of 8:49.71, he finished fourth overall to automatically advance.
The Razorback sprinters opened the day with a sixth-place finish in the 4×100-meters. Senior Cedric Zellner, freshman Marek Niit, senior Mychael Stewart and senior J-Mee Samuels combined for a time of 39.87. They will likely earn an at-large bid with the 11th-fastest time on the NCAA descending order list.
Later in the day, Samuels came back to finish fourth in the 100-meter finals. The four-time All-American clocked a season-best time of 10.19 to automatically advance to the NCAA Championships.
Niit ran his second race of the day in the 200-meter finals. He clocked a 20.80 to finish seventh. He stands a chance at an at-large bid.
The NCAA will release the complete list of accepted entries for the NCAA Championships, Tuesday, June 2. For more information and complete results, visit ArkansasRazorbacks.com.
NCAA Auto Qualifiers
J-Mee Samuels, 100 meters
Chris Bilbrew, 800 meters
Dorian Ulrey, 1,500 meters
Andy McClary, 1,500 meters
Scott MacPherson, 3,000-meter steeplechase
James Strang, 5,000 meters
Shawn Forrest, 10,000 meters
James Strang, 10,000 meters
Alain Bailey, long jump
Mychael Stewart, long jump
Tarik Batchelor, long jump
Nkosinza Balumbu, triple jump
Tarik Batchelor, triple jump
NCAA Potential At-Large Qualifiers
Marek Niit, 200 meters
Alex McClary, 800 meters
Michael Chinchar, 1,500 meters