KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Arkansas senior Eric Brown defended his regional javelin title and the Razorbacks earned four additional NCAA qualifiers to their arsenal on Saturday at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Mideast Regional at the Tom Black Track on the campus of the University of Tennessee.
With Saturday’s additions, Arkansas solidified six athletes and seven entries into the NCAA meet with the potential of earning another four event qualifications based on season performances early next week. Senior Josphat Boit is qualified in both the 5,000 and 10,000-meter runs while junior Marc Rodrigues is entered in the 5,000. Junior Adam Perkins earned a spot in the 1,500-meter run on Saturday. Arkansas also gained three automatic qualifiers in field events with Brown (javelin), freshman Nkosinza Balumbu and junior Greg Martin (high jump) all earning a trip to the national meet next month in Sacramento, Calif.
In addition, Rodrigues (10K), sophomore Shawn Forrest (5K, 10K) and senior Seth Summerside (5K) could earn at-large berths into the NCAA Championships based on times turned in earlier this season. Final entries into the NCAA meet will be announced on Monday night.
“It was about what we expected,” McDonnell said. “The people that we thought would get to the national meet got there. There was no surprise. I think Shawn Forrest is going to make it and (Marc) Rodrigues in the 10K. That might move (Seth) Summerside into the 5,000 as well.”
Arkansas has won three-consecutive NCAA outdoor championships and 42 national titles overall. But this year, the Razorbacks lost three key contributors including Jaanus Uudmae and Said Ahmed to graduation and Peter Kosgei to injury. For the first time in a while, Arkansas won’t enter the national meet as a favorite. In fact, McDonnell wouldn’t even classify the Hogs as a dark horse.
“I’d say we are a black horse,” McDonnell said. “We will go out there, especially with the seniors like Eric Brown and Josphat Boit, they don’t want to go out in second place. It’s not over until it’s over. We are going out there to do as good as we can. We don’t have any more bullets in the holster itself.”
Brown out-classed the javelin field for a second-consecutive season winning the event with a throw of 231-7. The Baldwin City, Kan., native took the event lead for good with his first throw of 230-4 and then recorded his winning mark in his second attempt. Brown finished up his day with a toss of 230-11 on his final attempt of the preliminary round. The Razorback senior passed on all three attempts in the final and still won by a comfortable margin.
“I was planning on taking three throws and the passing the rest,” Brown said. “I actually passed the rest only because nobody had passed me. I didn’t want to lose, but I also didn’t want to throw again.”
Brown became the first Razorback to win back-to-back regional titles. And although he was far from his peak performance, Brown was relieved to pass the intermediate test on his national championship quest.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Brown said. “I was just glad to get through it. I didn’t feel very good today and I’m not very happy with how I threw. I guess it is just good to get past it. I made it to Sacramento so I guess that is all that matters.”
Balumbu earned his NCAA berth with his first triple jump of the evening. The All-American measured 51-3 on his first attempt. Balumbu bettered his mark to 51-8 1/2 on his second jump before fouling on his final attempt of the preliminary round. On his third attempt, Balumbu felt a tweak in his right hamstring and ran through the pit. With an NCAA qualification essentially in the bag and the injury, Balumbu passed on all three attempts in the final and finished third overall. Balumbu has been battling a sore hamstring for the entire outdoor season.
“Balumbu tweaked a hamstring and that is my main concern right now,” Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said. “He ran through (the pit) on his third attempt and he felt something kind of tweak. We are waiting to see. Hopefully that is not something that will affect his national meet.”
The Razorback freshman is confident that he will be healthy enough to compete in his home state in two weeks at the NCAA Championships. His hometown of Union City, Calif., is 100 miles from Sacramento. Balumbu is already anticipating a big performance in front of his friends and family and made a point to let Saturday’s triple jump winner know he was in for a fight.
“I feel great,” Balumbu said. “After this meet I was excited that I’m going back to California where my family is from and everyone expects me to do well. Even at the (awards) podium, the guy that won, Alonzo Moore, I told him ‘Don’t worry it’s only temporary. I’m going back home. So you better bring everything you got when I go back home because I’m not trying to disappoint.”
Despite battling a right Achilles injury for the entire outdoor season, junior Adam Perkins earned his way to the NCAA Championships with a fifth-place finish in the final of the 1,500-meter run. The defending Mideast Regional champion was running in only his second 1,500 final of the spring. Perkins clocked in at 3:46.22 and tallied another four points for the Razorbacks in the team race.
“He just had to dig down there,” McDonnell said. “It is big for him (to advance to nationals). This will give him two more weeks before NCAA and it will give him a chance to be in pretty good shape. Two weeks can make quite a difference. He is coming in leaps and bounds. He is getting better and better. He could’ve run faster today. He runs better off a fast pace and at the NCAA, more than likely, It will be a fast pace.”
The 12-man 1,500-meter field fractured on the final lap and a six-man lead pack emerged. Perkins slipped to sixth briefly on the final turn before rallying to take fifth-place ahead of Indiana’s John Jefferson (3:48.04).
“Coach McDonnell told me that the top five is all that matters (at this meet),” Perkins said. “At first I told him that I wanted to win, but he put it into perspective. This is only my second race back. The last 100 meters I saw a sixth guy coming out of the shadows and I said ‘Oh boy this is going to be rough.’ I’m glad I pulled through. As coach said, two weeks is going to make a huge difference. I just wanted to get to the next step.”
Junior Greg Martin rebounded from a rough start in the high jump to earn a qualification for the NCAA meet on his final attempt. Martin missed badly on his first attempt hitting the high jump standard in the process. After a miss on his second jump, Martin made the most of his final attempt clearing the bar to secure a spot in the top five and next month’s NCAA Championships. He missed his only attempt at 7-1 before passing on his final two jumps. Martin finished fifth overall to earn four team points for the Razorbacks.
“He made 6-11 on his third attempt and got in by the skin of his teeth,” Booth said. “He has a lot of skin on his teeth so we are going to live to go again. As long as he doesn’t run out of skin on his teeth we are going to be OK.”
Martin said he remained optimistic even after missing on his first two tries at 6-11. The junior credited his performance at the SEC Championships as a much-needed boost of confidence.
“I felt great,” Martin said. “After having to do a double the first day (of SEC Championships) and the first event not being a crisp one, there was pressure for me to get it done for the team in that close of a battle with Tennessee. I had all the confidence to get it done. I came out here with the same mindset that I was out here to complete the goal of going to nationals. It isn’t just about going to nationals, it is about competing. I have high expectations. My goal is to become an All-American.”
Martin came up short of an encore performance in the triple jump. The Texan fouled on his first two attempts and carded a jump of 48-5 1/2 on his final attempt. His mark wasn’t long enough to net a place in the finals. Freshman Mychael Stewart also failed to advance to the final in triple jump. Stewart recorded a top jump of 47-10 3/4.
A pair of freshmen came up shy of qualifying for the NCAA meet in the steeplechase. Scott MacPherson finished 21st with a time of 9:20.03 while teammate Kenny Cormier finished 24th in a time of 9:27.40.
For the first time since the regional format was adopted, Arkansas didn’t capture the regional team championship. The Razorbacks won the first three NCAA Mideast Regionals (2003-05) contested, but finishedthird this year with41 points. Southeastern Conference brethren LSU (71) and Tennessee (52.25) captured the top two spots.
Arkansas will travel to Sacramento, Calif., in two weeks to compete for its 43rd national championship. The NCAA meet will be held on June 7-10 at Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State University. The Razorbacks are the defending NCAA outdoor champions and have won a total of 12 outdoor national crowns in school history.