Razorbacks Hope to Dominate at Penn Relays
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The top-ranked Arkansas track team is returning to the historic Penn Relays at Franklin Field for the 19th year and is bringing 26 athletes to compete in 11 events and four different relays. The Razorbacks are top contenders in several of the relay events they are entered in and are expecting to bring home the coveted wagon wheels.
“Penn Relays is really important to us from a recruiting standpoint and it is not because we recruit on the east coast,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “Penn Relays is the super bowl of track. If you can go there and win, it gets national and international coverage. It is a tremendous recruiting tool and we always like to do well at Penn.
“I think this year, we will have some strong teams,” McDonnell said. “We should be strong in the 4×800, the distance medley, the 4xmile and the sprint medley. Those are the four relays we have a chance to win. I’d love to win three events. That would be tough because one win at Penn is good, but we have a chance realistically to win three. That is just the relays, then we have the individual events as well.”
Arkansas’ corps of distance runners will take to the track on Thursday night. Sophomore transfers Phillip Aagaard and Matt Gunn are running in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the first time. In the 5,000 meters juniors Westley Alkin and Silverus Kimeli are hoping to register regional qualifying times, while senior Patrick Thomas is running in the 10K.
On Friday the Razorbacks will try to defend their distance medley relay title with three of the same members that were on the winning team last year. Sophomore Michael Taylor will join returnees, senior Daniel Lincoln and juniors Alistair Cragg and Robbie Stevens. They will face tough competition from Villanova, Michigan and Southeastern Conference opponent Kentucky in search of their 15th title in 20 years.
The sprint medley relay will also look to make a name for itself with juniors Michael Thomas, Stevens, sophomores Ahmad Carroll and James Hatch. Thomas is also competing in the 110-meter hurdles with senior Eddie Jackson, while Carroll will take to the straight-aways in the 100-meter dash.
Several UA athletes will see competition in the field events. Four Razorbacks are in the long jump, with junior Maurice Robinson competing for the first time since the SEC Indoor Championships. Senior Richard Smith, junior Ramon Washington and sophomore transfer Jaanus Uudmae have all already regionally qualified for the event, but are looking to improve their marks in Philadelphia. Freshman Tony Ugoh is UA’s lone representative in the discus throw.
The 400-meter hurdles will start the running events on Saturday with senior Josh Landreth, junior transfer Maurice Bridges and freshmen Brad Dittoe and David Wittenmyer. In the mile race senior Chad Grundy is the only Razorback running in the event. In other field events on Saturday freshman Eric Brown is throwing the javelin.
The 4xmile relay team will also look to successfully defend their title. Sophomore Said Ahmed has been added to the team and will be joining last year’s winners, Lincoln, Cragg and junior Chris Mulvaney. The Hogs are looking to challenge the Penn Relays record of 16:07.96 set by the 1999 Arkansas team of Sharif Karie, Michael Power, Matt Kerr and Seneca Lassiter, with Abilene Christian as the only other school anticipated to provide competition for UA.
After finishing second last year to Georgetown, the 4×800-meter relay team will look to redeem themselves at the 2003 Penn Relays. The Hoyas are considered once again to be the favorites, but Hatch, Mulvaney, Stevens and Taylor hope to make an impression of their own. Each has registered fast times in the event this year, insuring a close and exciting race.
After the Hogs return from the Penn Relays they will travel to Palo Alto, Calif., for the Stanford Invitational on May 3, before taking a week off to rest in order to prepare for the SEC Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., May 16-18.
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