FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Mission accomplished for Arkansas track and field as five Razorbacks grabbed NCAA qualifying marks at the Arkansas Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center on Friday.
“We had five provisional qualifiers and that’s not bad for the first meet,” head coach John McDonnell. “Some guys, their eyes are too big during the first meet and you have to tell them to calm down. A few of them were a bit shell shocked, I’m sure, but they will bounce back.”
The Razorbacks had a solid outing in the long jump as they swept first, second and third places. Alain Bailey, making his Razorback debut, won the event with a leap of 25-0.75. His mark, also a NCAA provisional-qualifying jump, came on his third attempt after marking a 23-7.5 on his first jump and a 24-3.5 on his second trip down the runway.
“It was my first competition of the season and I think I did pretty well,” Bailey said. “I had a good rhythm going and it was a great experience (to go out and get the first jump of the season done). I got (the provisional-qualifying mark) on the fourth jump when I really got my rhythm going. It feels really good to finally be out here competing and have my teammates behind me cheering.”
Mychael Stewart, marking a 24-11.75, finished second behind Bailey. Stewart’s mark provisionally qualifies him for the NCAA Championships in March and is a new personal best. The jump replaces his previous personal best of 24-6.5 that he marked at the Tyson Invitational in 2006.
Daniel Quinn rounded out the top three with a long jump of 23-10.75, marked on his second attempt.
Nkosinza Balumbu, back from a hamstring injury that hampered his performance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2006, marked the third Razorback provisional-qualifying mark in the jumps events.
“We wanted to go from a short approach and that kind of hinders our possibilities a bit,” field events coach Dick booth said. “I wanted him to be really aggressive. I didn’t want him to back up and ease into it. He jumped 51 feet twice and that’s ahead of where he was last year at this time so everything is good.”
Balumbu, an All-American from the 2006 indoor season, finished second in the triple jump with a leap of 51-1.5 on his second attempt after marking a 49-5.75 on his opening jump.
“I felt pretty good coming into the meet,” Balumbu said. “I had a little soreness but not much. I got loosened up when I warmed up on the runway. I had a couple good jumps and a couple mediocre jumps but I got through the day healthy so that’s good.”
J-Mee Samuels made his indoor debut with 6.80 showing the prelims of the 60-meter dash. The mark was the fifth-best overall and qualified him for the finals.
Samuels bettered his time to 6.69, a NCAA provisional-qualifying clocking, as he took the tape in the 60-meter collegiate finals.
“I feel pretty good,” Samuels said. “My hamstring was bothering me a little bit but I had to pull through it. It’s not really an injury; it’s just a little sore. I just made sure I stayed relaxed out there. That was the main thing. I’d like to think of (the race) as a sign of things to come but I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to get better every day.”
Samuels’ outing is also a new personal best replacing his previous career mark of 6.70 from the Nike Indoor Nationals in 2005. The mark also sits at third on the UA 60-meter dash top 10 list.
“I honestly believe that tonight’s win and personal best, that’s what he need more then anything,” McDonnell said. “(Samuels) handled himself really well tonight (against the field). Clemore Henry, I was happy with his 200 meters because he is a 400-meter runner. That was a bright spot too.”
Clemore Henry made his Razorback debut and finished fifth in the championship section of the 200 meters with a time of 21.65.
Peter Kosgei made a triumphant return to the track after redshirting the 2006 outdoor season and clocked a provisional-qualifying time of 7:55.67 in the 3,000 meters.
“My time was okay, not too bad,” Kosgei said. “It’s the first race of the season so to run a 7:55, that’s pretty good. I saw that I missed (an automatic-qualifying time) by one second, I was kind of disappointed. I feel good and it’s only January. We still have a long season ahead of us.”
Former Razorback Alistair Cragg and pro runner Mark Fountain paced the race and led until they stepped out with about three laps to go. Kosgei cruised to the victory with former Hog Said Ahmed finishing second 8:01.18. Tyler Hill (8:17.35) and Adam Perkins (8:18.34) finished sixth and seventh, respectively.
“(Kosgei) wanted to run under 7:54 and he got awfully close,” McDonnell said. “He’s a little disappointed that he didn’t get (an automatic-qualifying time) but it’s hard to get that at the first meet of the year. I’m really happy with him running that fast. We have been working hard but we haven’t done any speed work.”
Chris Barnicle, Kent Austell, Micky Cobrin and Kenny Cormier combined for Arkansas’ distance medley relay and earned a bronze finish with a clocking of 10:15.15.
“Two of those guys have been battling illness all fall and I don’t think they are full recovered,” McDonnell said. “Chris Barnicle and Kenny Cormier (who have been battling illness), two really good runners. They did not have a good experience tonight and we are going to go back and have them tested again. We need to get them healthy.”
“Samuels, Kosgei and the jumpers (Bailey, Balumbu and Stewart), that’s what we need, four or five guys to stand up,” McDonnell said. “Those qualifiers will get the rest of the team to stand up and get going.”
The Cardinal and White will return to the track Fri., Jan. 19, for the two-day Razorback Invitational. For complete results of the Arkansas Invitational, visit www.hogwired.com.