Razorbacks Ready to Qualify for Nationals at M
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Before top-ranked Arkansas gets ready to defend its NCAA outdoor title, the Hogs must travel first to Baton Rouge, La., for the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships on May 28-29. Eighteen athletes will make the trip with the expectations of finishing in the top five of their respective event in order to qualify for the national championships on June 9-12. If they do not garner a top-five showing they will have to rely on their fast times set earlier in the year to grab one of several at-large bids. At last year’s inaugural regional contest in Columbus, Ohio the Hogs won the title and went on to capture their 38th NCAA crown.
“We’re going to the regional meet with the purpose of putting together a team to go after a national championship,” Arkansas sprints and hurdles coach Lance Brauman said. “We will have people in events that we’ll plan on having in the national meet itself. One of the major drawbacks is that we have Alistair Cragg who has one of the fastest times in the world in the 5,000 meters and he has to run this weekend. It’s puts you in a bad situations as far as with your elite athletes.
“Our goal is to get through this regional meet healthy and second of all place in the top five,” Brauman said. “Or most of our guys are high enough on the descending order list that they should be able to get in off their time. We’re still going to go there and run fast.”
Junior Tyson Gay will represent Arkansas in the 100 and 200-meter dashes with times of 10.28 and 20.50, respectively. Both of his times were earned at the SEC Championships on May 16. His 100 and 200 times are third and fourth, respectively, in the mideast.
Gay will be joined by sophomore Omar Brown and freshman Wallace Spearmon, Jr., in the 200. Both of their best times were registered at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 18. Spearmon put up a region and nation-leading time of 20.35, while Brown clocked 20.66. Brown’s performance has him at sixth in the region.
Those three sprinters will also take to the track for the 4×100-meter relay, with senior Michael Thomas taking the opening leg. Together they turned in a time of 39.17 at the SEC Championships and placed themselves at second in the region. In addition to the relay Thomas will line up in the 110-meter hurdles with a seed time of 13.65.
“Also, with the extra meet, from a sprinting stand point, it’s puts you in a situation that a great sprinter cannot double in the 100 and 200 and then run a leg in the 4×100,” Brauman said. “It’s just too many races. We did the 100, 200 last year with Ahmad Carroll and by the end of it he was barely standing and we didn’t have a relay for him to run. This year the likelihood of doing that with any of our guys is not very high. The only person that will double is Tyson Gay. The purpose behind that is that he hasn’t run that many meets outdoors and we need to get him some more races for race fitness.”
In the 400-meter dash junior Terry Gatson earned a career-best time of 45.36 at the league meet to make the trip to Baton Rouge, La. His time gave him a No. 3 seeding.
Senior Maurice Bridges and sophomore Brad Dittoe will represent Arkansas in the 400-meter hurdles. Bridges is carrying the third-fastest time in the region (50.34) that he registered at the SEC Championships, while Dittoe posted a 52.00 at the Mt. SAC Relays.
Junior James Hatch will carry the torch in the 800 meters with a time of 1:47.52 from the league meet in Oxford, Miss. He can be found at sixth on the descending order list.
The 1,500 meters will be a tough event and it is loaded Razorback runners who are all coming off season-best performances from the SEC Championships. Leading the charge is senior Chris Mulvaney with a time of 3:41.25. Freshman Sam Vazquez is next with 3:41.25 and juniors Said Ahmed (3:43.40) and Michael Taylor (3:44.39) will round out the representation.
All four will have to post strong performances if they want a chance to compete at nationals, because while all their times are in the top 12 of the mideast, they are found lower on the descending order list on a national level. Mulvaney is seventh, Vazquez is 21st, Ahmed is 30th and Taylor is 36th.
The 5,000 meters will have one of Arkansas’ top guns with senior Alistair Cragg on the track. Cragg has the region’s and the nation’s fastest time of 13:16.98 from the Cardinal Invitational on April 30. He is also automatically qualified in the 10,000 meters, which will be run in Austin, Texas.
The field events will be well represented by UA athletes. The pole vault will include senior transfer Jeremy Scott who boasts a region-leading mark of 18-0.50 from the SEC Championships. Junior P.J. Brown also cleared a quality height of 16-8.75 at the SEC’s.
Freshman Greg Martin will gain valuable experience as he enters the regional meet with a clearance of 6-10.75 in the high jump. Junior Jaanus Uudmae is the only horizontal jumper and will compete in the triple jump. He posted his mark of 51-8.50 at the league meet.
Sophomore Eric Brown has the second-best javelin throw in the region with a 235-06 from the Texas Relays.
Finals of the high jump will begin the regional meet on Friday at 12 p.m. and the prelims of all the running events will start at 4:15 p.m. Saturday’s events start off with the finals of the javelin at 12 p.m., with the finals of running events scheduled for 5:07 p.m. with the 4×100-meter relay.
After the Razorbacks return from Louisiana they will have a week off as they prepare for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Austin, Texas on June 9-12. Arkansas and head coach John McDonnell will be in search of their 39th national title since 1984.
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