Razorbacks Triumph and Capture 40th NCAA Champ
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas triumphed in the face of adversity on Saturday night and captured a monumental 40th NCAA Championship and 18th indoor crown, the most of any Division I NCAA program. The Hogs overcame a DMR disqualification from Friday night and the absence of one of its top sprinters, Tyson Gay, to score 56 points in front of a hometown crowd of 5,461 at the Randal Tyson Track Center. Florida finished second with 46 points and Wisconsin was third with 43.
“This morning I woke up and wasn’t sure if we were going to win No. 40, especially after what happened last night,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “After the team meeting this afternoon I assured them that no one was going to take the national title from us and we rose to the occasion. We came today to win. It’s a credit to my staff and the athletes. We overcame a lot today. It was amazing.”
The Hogs clinched the team title after the 3,000 meters when they added 11 points to make Arkansas’ total 54, more than 10 points ahead of the rest of the field with one event remaining. Sophomore Peter Kosgei made a move in the final 50 meters to grab second place with a career-best time of 7:54.45. Sophomore Adam Perkins also staged a gusty performance with a sixth place finish (8:03.43). Entering the event the duo was ranked 12th and 13th, respectively, and their improved finishes were a very pleasant surprise.
The mile run was the first running event of the day and Arkansas sat in second place behind Auburn with 22 points. After running two outstanding races on Friday night, junior Said Ahmed took to the track again for the finals. He registered a sixth place finish and added 3 points to make Arkansas’ total 22, but UA still trailed Auburn by six. Ahmed’s performance gave the Boston, Mass., native his fourth career All-America honor.
The 800 meters was next with senior James Hatch representing the Hogs. Hatch lifted the team’s spirit when he garnered runner-up honors with a career-best time of 1:47.40. Hatch’s performance was even more impressive based on the fact that he was the last athlete to qualify for the event.
Hatch staged a smart tactical race, staying comfortably in the third position and then moved up to second coming off the final turn. He held off Auburn’s Sherridan Kirk (1:47.64) and Michigan’s Nate Brannen (1:47.71) to pick up eight crucial points for the Hog team. It was Hatch’s best individual finish at a national championship meet and placed him at fourth on the UA all-time indoor top 10 list.
“I really hadn’t had a good race all year,” Hatch said. “Being ranked low coming into the event took the pressure off me, because no one was really looking my way. Coach McDonnell always tells us that if someone falls down someone else needs to step up and that’s what I did.”
Another inspiring performance was turned in by senior Terry Gatson. Gatson lined up in the second heat of the 400 meters, against Olympic gold medalists Darold Williamson (Baylor) and Kelly Willie (LSU) and junior world record holder Kerron Clement (Florida). Gatson knew he had to post a solid performance even though he had competed in the both the prelims and DMR the night before.
Gatson came through with a second-place finish and career-best time of 45.29. His time broke the 13-year-old school record of 46.16 held by Calvin Davis and is the third-fastest time ever run by a collegian indoors. Gatson’s performance would have also set an NCAA meet record, but Clement powered to a world-record time of 44.57 for top honors.
“First place is always on my mind,” Gatson said. “I was expecting to run 45 and I did. I wanted to do it for myself and the team. We weren’t going to lose the team championship.”
After the 400 Arkansas gained the lead for the first time during the weekend with 38 points. Auburn was close behind in second with 36. Next on the schedule was the 60-meter dash, an event UA did not have an athlete entered. Following the 60 meters the Razorbacks still held a slim lead with three events remaining, but Florida (36) moved up to tie with Auburn, after UF’s Richard Adu-Bobie picked up six points with a third-place finish.
Senior Jaanus Uudmae added five points when he posted a mark of 53-6.50 in the triple jump. Uudmae earned the same measurement on his final two attempts. His performance kept the Hogs in the lead with 43 points, with Florida and Auburn still tied with 36 points. It was Uudmae’s second All-America honor as a Razorback.
The 4×400-meter relay concluded the evening and with the team title already a guarantee the Razorback team of senior Omar Brown, junior David Wittenmyer, Gatson and sophomore Wallace Spearmon recorded a time of 3:06.16 for seventh place. It is the first time since 1992 that an UA team has earned All-America honors in the event.
The Razorbacks put together a truly memorable team effort and for the weekend 10 athletes earned a combined total of 14 All-America honors. Now that the indoor season is over Arkansas can look ahead to the outdoor season. The Stanford Invitational will open the 2005 outdoor campaign for the distance runners in Palo Alto, Calif., on March 26.
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