Razorbacks Claim 38th NCAA Championship; Cragg
BY ANDRES FOCIL
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Arkansas captured its 38th national championship at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships with 59 points in a very tight team race with Auburn, who came in second with 50. The 2003 title marked their 10th outdoor title and the first outdoor crown since eight consecutive titles in 1992-99.
The beginning of the day saw the Hogs in an unfamiliar position, second place. They were behind Auburn with 30 points. With point-earning finishes in the 1,500-meter run, the 200-meter dash, the 800 and the 5K, Arkansas quickly shot up the leader board to capture the team title.
“What a way to finish it off,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “It feels great. Especially for the seniors and Daniel Lincoln, who was such a big contributor. He’s never had an outdoor team title and now he’ll leave with everything. Everybody contributed today. Chris Mulvaney was great after coming back from a hamstring injury at regionals to finish in a close second place and Said Ahmed was able to score too. Robbie Stevens was right in there in the 800 and Ahmad Carroll came out of nowhere and contributed three important points. It’s very special. It feels almost as good as the first one.”
The 5,000 meters was the last running event for Arkansas and it proved to be the clincher as junior Alistair Cragg orchestrated a heroic and commanding win with a time of 13:47.87. His finish topped off UA’s total with 10 valuable points to make it 59. The now four-time national champion became only the second Razorback athlete to win the NCAA 5K. Brian Baker last won it in 1994.
During the slow-paced race Cragg bounced back from the fourth and fifth positions. The finish came down to a kick with two laps left and Cragg outpaced Louis Luchini of Stanford for the victory.
“I was thankful for the slow pace,” Cragg said. “I was ready to go this morning, but then I saw the team race getting very close. My arms and legs starting feeling like jelly. That’s the first time the pressure really got to me like that. I had nothing else to run for but the team. I knew I had to get 10 points. That’s the deepest I’ve ever had to dig before. It was the best thing I could have done. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we ran the 10,000.”
“Their (Cragg and Lincoln) performances were mint perfect against good runners who were fresh,” McDonnell said. “It’s amazing how they handled it. I knew they could do it. That’s why I had them double.”
After the 1,500-meter run Arkansas rallied and took the lead by two points over the Tigers. The race came down to a surge in the last 50 meters and for the second-straight year junior Chris Mulvaney crossed the line in second place with a career-best time of 3:40.44.
Sophomore Said Ahmed was the next Razorback to finish when he came in fifth with a time of 3:42.83. It was Ahmed’s second All-America honor as a Hog. Sophomore Michael Taylor was also in the race and registered a time of 3:50.01 for 11th place. Fortunately, their finishes added 12 points to make UA’s total 42.
“They were too far ahead,” Mulvaney said. “My plan was to stay relaxed and put in my kick in the last 50 meters. I just kicked too late. I’m disappointed I came in second, but on the plus side I picked up eight points for the team. Honestly after the prelim race I had, I’m pleased with second place. There was a lot more pressure this year. I knew I had to finish up there in the top three.”
Sophomore Ahmad Carroll earned his second All-America honor for the weekend when he finished eighth for one point in the 200-meter dash with a time of 21.48. Carroll is the first Arkansas athlete to earn the honor in both the 100 and 200-meter dashes. After Mississippi State’s top contender, Pierre Brown, withdrew from the 200, Carroll became the only sprinter this week to score points in both of the events.
Junior Robbie Stevens came through with a third place finish in the 800 meters to tack on six points to make UA’s total 49, one point ahead of Auburn with two events remaining. Stevens’ performance provided a slight cushion before the successful 5,000-meter run went to the line.
With their win in Sacramento, Calif., the Razorbacks have truly dominated the 2003 track and field season. Arkansas has won the SEC indoor and outdoor crowns, the inaugural Mideast Regional Championship and both NCAA indoor and outdoor titles. With a talented pool of young runners coming in next year and a slew of returning athletes this victory is only a sign of more good things to come.
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