SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Arkansas senior Eric Brown came up short of his national championship bid in the javelin, but secured runner-up honors and junior Adam Perkins garnered All-America honors in the 1,500-meter run on the final day of the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the Alex G. Spanos Sports Complex.
Arkansas finished fifth in the team competition with 33 points snapping a streak of three-consecutive national titles at the national outdoor meet and marking only the fourth time in the past 15 tries that Arkansas didn’t hoist the championship trophy. This time around Florida State took home the crown with 67 points followed by LSU with 51 points. Texas finished third and Arizona placed fourth with 36 and 34 points, respectively.
“We did what we were supposed to do really,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “I hate to say we had a good meet and finish fifth, but it was just one of those things where we didn’t have enough people. I still consider we had a good year. We won three conference titles, finished second at cross country and won the indoors and in the top-five at the outdoor. I’m satisfied that it was all we were capable of doing right now. Anybody that watched that 5K and saw Josphat (Boit) dive at the line for that second spot shows that our kids didn’t give up.”
With the Razorbacks a long-shot to contend for the team crown heading into the final day of the competition, attention turned to senior Eric Brown and his quest to become the first Razorback to win an NCAA championship in the javelin.
Instead, Brown finished second and racked up the third top-five NCAA finish of his career after garnering third place as a sophomore and fourth place as a junior. The Baldwin City, Kan., product turned in a mark of 238-3 to finish behind North Carolina’s Justin Ryncavage (243-4). Brown’s second-place finish was the best by a thrower in Arkansas history at the NCAA meet.
“I felt much better today and warm-ups went really well again,” Brown said. “I just did something in the meet and got away from that good feeling you need to have. I just didn’t go anywhere. It is disappointing, but I will take it.
“I think there is a huge difference (between first and second place). Nobody remembers second place. That is too bad.”
Brown’s disappointment stemmed from high expectations after a season that saw him post nearly a dozen throws of over 240-0 including five of six throws of at least that distance in winning the SEC Championship last month in Fayetteville. He dominated the league field with a winning throw of 251-9. Brown also recorded the longest throw by a collegian this year when he recorded a mark of 256-3 at the Kansas Relays. Brown was also attempting to become the first thrower of any kind in school history to win an individual national championship.
“We were disappointed,” Arkansas volunteer javelin coach Andrew McDonough said. “He could’ve done better. He warmed up super and had his farthest warm-up ever. When it came time to do it, unfortunately, he took a step backwards instead of forward.”
Saturday’s competition marked the third time Brown and Ryncavage had squared off this season. Brown bested Ryncavage at the Texas Relays while Ryncavage evened the score with a win at the Penn Relays. The two rivals dominated the national javelin rankings all season long with Brown coming into the national meet ranked No. 1 and Ryncavage ranked No. 2.
Brown opened the competition with a throw of 231-2 to take the lead. Ryncavage, the final competitor in the flight, came up big on his first attempt measuring 243-4 to claim the lead from Brown. The Arkansas senior improved on each of his next two preliminary attempts upping his best to 236-0 and then 238-3. Brown stood in second place after the three preliminary throws.
Brown opened the final round with a throw of 225-3 and then carded a throw of 227-5 on his second attempt. In the final attempt of his Razorback career, Brown gave it an all-out effort but fouled clinching the title for Ryncavage.
“I was disappointed for him,” McDonnell said. “That was his last hurrah. He has been such a great guy and very consistent, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
Ryncavage won the NCAA crown one year after undergoing right elbow surgery and missing the entire 2005 campaign. Ryncavage said while the competition with Brown has been fierce, the duel between the two competitors has always been based on respect.
“Eric is an awesome competitor,” Ryncavage said. “We have been at each other all year. He had some amazing throws this year. We work off each other. It is a great competition between us. It is a friendly competition.”
Brown will now turn his attention to pursing a professional career. That new chapter in Brown’s career will likely begin later this month at the USA Championships in Indianapolis, Ind.
“My goal is to keep throwing,” Brown said. “I was hoping that this would be a good stepping stone to get me to the next level, but I kind of skipped through that. I’m hopefully going to USA’s in two weeks and kind of redeem myself there and figure out what I’m doing wrong.”
Junior Adam Perkins was the final Razorback to compete on Saturday and crossed the finish line sixth in the final of the 1,500-meter run. Perkins clocked in at 3:45.37, his second-fastest 1,500-meter time of the season. South Alabama’s Vincent Rono won the race in 3:44.07 with Florida State’s Tom Lancashire (3:44.20) finishing second.
“I really had great positioning,” Perkins said. “I tried to look to see where he (Coach McDonnell) wanted me to go, but I couldn’t really tell. So when Florida State went, I went. He obviously got second for it at the end. But I think I should have just gone a little because I was right with Vincent Rono with about 150 (meters) to go. He ended up winning.”
Perkins took an early lead in the race and held the lead after the first lap. Arizona’s Robert Chesseret took the lead on lap two and Perkins settled in the second position. Rono charged to the lead on the third lap and never looked back to win the national title.
“Sixth place is sixth place, it is not winning but I’m glad I’m here,” Perkins said. “I think that is the most important thing to represent Arkansas at that national level. I wanted to win. The pace went out a little slower than I would’ve liked to. Given the circumstances it is All-American again and I can’t complain considering where I was a month ago.”
That Perkins was even in the NCAA 1,500-meter final was an accomplishment in itself. The Liberty, Mo., product was nearly sidelined for the entire outdoor season with a right Achilles injury. Perkins admitted that at one point he wondered if he would even compete this spring.
“I really did,” Perkins said. “The week or two before Penn Relays I was thinking we probably needed to redshirt myself. It wasn’t my call. But Coach McDonnell said, ‘You just need to start running. You have nothing to lose. If you are going to get hurt for the rest of the year, you have all summer to recover. But if not this is the time to get started.’”
Despite his challenge, McDonnell had serious doubts whether Perkins would be healthy enough to contribute down the stretch. “I thought he wouldn’t get back at all,” McDonnell said. “He placed the same here as he did at the conference meet. He came along way. This is his third meet. He gave it all he had again.”
For Arkansas, Saturday’s season finale was an unfamiliar ending to the outdoor season that has traditionally ended with a national championship celebration. McDonnell sensed early that the Hogs wouldn’t have enough firepower to make it four-straight team crowns and focused his team on winning another important title.
“I hate to go to a national championship and not win it, but it was almost impossible for us to win,” McDonnell said. “The one we wanted to win was the conference meet in our new stadium. They did everything to do that. As far as I’m concerned I’m happy about this year.”
While McDonnell was pleased with his team’s efforts at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Championships, the consensus SEC cross country and track and field coach of the year promised that is squad wouldn’t be long from the awards stand.
"We will be back," McDonnell said. "We will be back."