FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – John McDonnell’s Razorbacks did just about everything they could to make sure their heralded coach did not lose his last conference championship. With a powerful boost from four individual titles, Arkansas Razorback track and field won its’ 84th conference title and 46th SEC title.
The Razorbacks also won their 21st triple crown, winning the conference titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor in the same season. Arkansas last won the triple crown during the 2006 season.
The Hogs scored 131.5 points to take the win but they didn’t have it locked up until James Strang led a trio of Razorbacks to scoring spots in the 5,000 meters. Heading into the 5K, LSU held a half-point lead after going 1-2 in the 200 meters and scrapping up two points in the shot put.
“It wasn’t a huge margin of victory but it was a victory,” head coach John McDonnell said. “This title means an awful lot to me. I think it means more to the team because they were so determined to win this meet. These guys were not going to lose this meet and they showed it. We had phenomenal performances in every single event and the javelin, what a great win for our freshman Luke Laird.”
“I’ve always told our athletes to never give anyone cheap points and we didn’t,” McDonnell said. “We had to take control of this meet early and we did that with the win in the javelin. LSU got close and they were beating us by a half point before the 5K. We kept the pressure on them and we didn’t give up.”
Strang, the 5K-race winner, Shawn Forrest (fourth place) and Tyler Hill (seventh place) picked up 17 points to LSU’s five in the final individual event of the night. Heading into the 4×400-meter relay, Arkansas held a 131.5 to 119 point lead over the Tigers. LSU finished second in the team race with 122 points.
“I tried to run the smartest race I could and help my teammates out,” Strang said. “I knew Shawn (Forrest) and I were going to be really tired from that 10K. I think our guys executed well in this race. I’m really proud of my teammates, doing everything they had to do to get this win for Coach McDonnell.”
The biggest boost of the day came from freshman Luke Laird in the javelin, Arkansas’ first event of the day. Expecting to redshirt the 2008 season until about two weeks ago, Laird competed in an Arkansas uniform for the first time Sunday afternoon.
“I was redshirting until last week so I am excited to have accomplished this,” Laird said. “I’ve known that I could throw that far. It was just a matter of getting everything pulled together at the right time. For some reason this year, my last throw has always been my best. So I felt pretty confident going into my last throw. Coach told me to work on my speed and that is what I did and it flew the right way.”
In great fashion, Laird moved from third to first on his final throw to seal up the victory. He entered the finals in fifth place after a prelim throw of 208-11. His winning toss of the day, 228-4, is a personal best, a regional-qualifying mark and ranks third on UA’s all-time list.
Similar to teammate Alain Bailey’s winning efforts on Saturday, it only took one jump for team captain Nkosinza Balumbu to lock up the triple jump title, the fifth SEC title of his career. His winning mark of 53-1.5 came on his first attempt. He went for a second attempt, jumped 52-02 and then called it a day.
“It’s never easy to win,” Balumbu said. “You always have to come out here and focus and go through all the fundamentals to win the competition. After I put that first one out there, I pretty much did what I had to do to win. I have a long year ahead of me with regionals, NCAAs and USAs so we decided to take two and call it quits.”
Spencer McCorkel, who has admittedly struggled this outdoor season, put it all together on the pole vault runway this afternoon. Battling ferociously, he fought for a runner-up finish and eight valuable team points. He cleared 17-2.75 and earned his first All-SEC honor.
“I had high expectations for myself coming into this event,” McCorkel said. “Considering the season I’ve been having, this is definitely a good performance for me. To finally be getting everything together at this point in the season, it’s the perfect time with regionals coming up.”
In their SEC outdoor debuts, Alex and Andy McClary earned bronze finishes in their respective events. Running in two of the toughest events in the SEC, Alex clocked a 1:48.05, a season best, in the 800 meters and Andy ran a 3:46.78 in the 1,500 meters.
In the high jump, Arkansas got points from Brent Rosson and Bailey. Both cleared 6-8.75 but because of misses Rosson finished tie for fourth and Bailey was sixth.
Kyle Komarek also scored big points of the Hogs in the javelin. He won the first flight with a throw of 208-4. Entering the finals, he ranked seventh. He moved to sixth with his best and final throw of the day, 208-10.
Arkansas’ 4×100-meter relay scored three points with a sixth-place finish out of heat one. Cedric Zellner, Bailey, Mychael Stewart and J-Mee Samuels combined for a time of 39.88, a season best. Samuels also finished fourth in the 200 meters (20.56) and fifth in the 100 meters (10.21).
For a recap and complete results of the SEC Championships, visit www.hogwired.com.