NCAA Team Finalized with 15 Razorback Athletes
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – At the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships this past weekend in Baton Rouge, La., top-ranked Arkansas earned ten automatic qualifications, including one relay, for the national championships, but Tuesday night the Hogs learned they could add more athletes to that list. The NCAA announced the final field of declared athletes for the meet and four Razorbacks were given at-large spots to help strengthen UA’s chances of bringing home the first-place team trophy.
“We have everybody we wanted in the meet,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “You always want more, but we have the people that can score points in the meet. All in all, I’m pleased with the outcome.”
A pleasant surprise was freshman Sam Vazquez getting the last open at-large position in the 1,500 meters. Even though he has a faster season-best time than junior Said Ahmed, Vazquez just ran out of steam at regionals and finished out of the top five in sixth place. Vazquez was depending on that time of 3:42.40 from the Southeastern Conference Championships to earn a ticket to Austin, Texas.
In the 400 meters junior Terry Gatson gained an at-large bid with his time of 45.36, from the SEC Championships. Over the weekend Gatson was unable to garner the required top-five finish when he cramped up in the finals to cross the line in ninth (48.54).
Junior James Hatch was also given an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters. Going into the regional meet Hatch was carrying the eighth fastest time in the country (1:47.52), but in the finals of the event a top-five showing was prevented after he became tangled up with a group of other runners and finished ninth.
Junior Tyson Gay automatically qualified to the meet with his first-place finishes at the Mideast Regional Championships in the 100 and 200-meter dashes. Gay is leading the nation in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.02 and is second in the 200 with 20.16. Both of his times were recorded at the regional contest and he will also handle a leg of the victorious 4×100-meter relay team.
Joining Gay on the relay team is senior Michael Thomas, freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr., sophomore Omar Brown and freshman Creighton Kiper serving as the alternate. The relay team is sixth on the descending order list with a time of 39.17 from the SEC Championships, but captured top honors (39.18) at the mideast regionals.
The 200-meter dash will be loaded with Spearmon and Brown going to the line. The duo was a part of Arkansas’ top three sweep in the event at the regional meet and their times are fourth (20.21) and seventh (20.36) in the nation, respectively.
For the third-straight year Thomas will make the trip to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 110-meter hurdles. He came in fourth (13.56) at regionals for the automatic qualification and has the 12th fastest time in the country (13.65).
Senior Maurice Bridges posted a fifth-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles at the mideast regionals to gain automatic entry into the national championships. He turned in a 51.05 in Baton Rouge, La., but his best time (50.34) this season came at the league meet and it is currently 14th in the nation.
The 1,500 meters will have an excellent corps of UA athletes with senior Chris Mulvaney leading the charge. The Bolton, England native gained an automatic bid to nationals, along with Ahmed after they finished first and third at the regional meet. Mulvaney can now find himself at sixth on the national descending order list, while Ahmed is 21st.
Two great distance runners, senior Alistair Cragg and junior Jason Sandfort will look to tally points for the team cause in the 10,000 meters. Since entry into the event is based off automatic and provisional performances not gained on the regional level the pair earned their times earlier in the season.
Sandfort ran his time of 28:29.58 at the Stanford Invitational on March 26, and Cragg posted a 28:46.64 in heavy rains at the conference meet. Their times are fourth and sixth in the country, respectively, but fans can expect them to clock faster times as they will be able to pull each other along during race. Additionally, Cragg is entering the event as the 2003 runner-up (28:20.29) behind former teammate Daniel Lincoln.
The field events will also be exciting to watch with senior transfer Jeremy Scott highlighting the pole vault competition. He came in first at the regional meet for the automatic nod with a season-best and school record height of 18-2.75. His clearance is fourth in the country.
Sophomore Eric Brown will be seeing his first NCAA Championship competition when he will represent Arkansas in the javelin. Brown put up an automatic finish of third place in Baton Rouge, La., and has the 13th best throw in the NCAA.
With their team finalized the No. 1 ranked Razorbacks will continue to prepare for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 9-12. They will travel to Austin, Texas on June 7, in anticipation of successfully defending their outdoor crown. If Arkansas is successful it will mark its 39th NCAA Championship and 11th of the outdoor variety, the most of any Division I collegiate track program.
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