Razorbacks Rally to Win 10th SEC Indoor Title;
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas engineered another classic finish to overtake nationally top-ranked Tennessee and win the 2002 Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Razorbacks captured their sixth-straight SEC indoor crown and their 10th in 11 tries in front of a crowd of 3,147. In addition, Arkansas collected its 67th conference title including 22 of the indoor variety. Another championship trophy for the Hogs was in doubt until the home team made late runs in the 5,000 meters, triple jump and distance medley relay.
“I’m real proud of the way our guys fought,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “It was a total team win. It wasn’t just the distance races, the DMR or the triple jump it was everyone that scored a point. It wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close to perfect.”
Arkansas topped the team list with 137 points followed by Tennessee with 130. Alabama (74), LSU (72) and Florida (46.5) rounded out the top five. Razorback sophomore Alistair Cragg also shared the meet’s top individual honors after scoring 22 points. Cragg, Alabama’s David Kimani and Tennessee’s Justin Gatlin tied for the Commissioner’s Trophy, an award recognizing the top-scoring individual in the league meet.
“I told them in the meeting this morning that it was ours to lose,” McDonnell said. “We were the defending champion and someone had to dethrone us. I know our guys didn’t want to lose in front of our crowd. They showed a lot of heart.”
Junior Daniel Lincoln led a Razorback contingent that scored 30 points in the 5,000-meter run. Lincoln’s win marked the 10th time in 11 SEC meets that Arkansas has claimed the individual title in the event. Lincoln crossed the line first in 14:04.14 with sophomore Alistair Cragg (14:08.30) finishing second and freshman Jason Sandfort (14:10.46) placing third.
A trio of Razorback sophomores combined for six more points in the event. Westley Alkin (14:24.09), Silverus Kimeli (14:34.13) and Fernando Cabada (14:35.33) placed sixth, seventh and eighth.
“The 5,000 was just awesome,” McDonnell said. “We did exactly what we needed to do. Patrick (Thomas) set a good pace for us and then the other guys took over. Chris Mulvaney saw (David) Kimani making a move on the video screen and so he didn’t have to turn around. He turned it on and won the race.”
The Hogs made their move in the 5,000, but it wasn’t until the triple jump results were tallied that Arkansas took the lead for good. Sophomore Maurice Robinson earned six points with a third-place finish with a leap of 24-5.75. Junior Richard Smith picked up four more points on a fourth-place jump of 51-11.
With a six-point lead with only two events remaining, Arkansas put the league meet away by topping the field and garnering 10 points in the distance medley relay. Sophomore Chris Mulvaney held off a late Kimani charge in the anchor mile leg to take the tape. Freshman Said Ahmed opened the relay on the 1,200-meter leg with freshman James Hatch on the 400-meter leg and freshman Michael Taylor handing to Mulvaney off the 800-meter relay portion.
Earlier in the day, Arkansas collected 19 points by boasting five of the top seven finishers in the 800 meters. Sophomore Chris Mulvaney finished second in a season-best and an NCAA automatic qualifying time of 1:48.14. Freshman Said Ahmed came across the line fourth in 1:48.75 to garner five points. Freshman Michael Taylor (1:48.79) and sophomore Robbie Stevens (1:49.27) finished fifth and seventh, respectively, for the Razorbacks.
“Chris ran a good smart race for us,” McDonnell said. “He is always steady. We were able to get some solid points in the 800.”
The Hogs earned 12 points in the mile run final held on Sunday afternoon. Cragg placed third in a time of 4:03.70 to lead a trio of Razorback scorers. Freshman James Hatch finished fifth in 4:07.33 while sophomore Silverus Kimeli placed seventh with a clip of 4:08.88.
Sophomore Michael Thomas took second-place honors and earned a NCAA automatic qualifying time in the process with a time of 7.74. The split also broke the school record in the 60-meter hurdles. It marked the third time this season, Thomas has broken the school record in the event. He also tallied eight points for the Hogs in the team race. Junior Eddie Jackson garnered five points with a fourth-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles. Jackson posted a personal best time of 7.81 and lowered his NCAA provisional qualifying time by one-hundredth of a second.
“I was pleased with what we got from our hurdlers,” McDonnell said. “Michael has really been coming on strong. Eddie ran a better race than he did yesterday and helped us with a fourth-place finish.”
Freshman Jonathan Reeves pitched in five points with a fourth-place finish in the shot put. Reeves recorded a throw of 57-6.25 in his first career league meet.
Arkansas failed to score in the high jump as freshmen Matt Rosebery and Cory Oldham placed 11th and 16th, respectively, with matching heights of 6-6.75.
The Hogs capped the day in style by posting a NCAA provisional qualifying time in the 1,600-meter relay. Sophomore Robbie Stevens, freshman Lawrence Richardson, junior Josh Landreth and senior Sam Glover combined to post a 3:08.62 which was good enough for fifth place and a little icing on the championship cake.
The Razorbacks will likely send a handful of competitors to a last chance meet next weekend in hopes of bettering some provisional marks and gaining additional automatic qualifications. Arkansas will be seeking its 17th indoor national title and 37th national championship overall at the 2002 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships on March 8-9 in Fayetteville, Ark.
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