FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – It may have taken a little bit longer than usual for Arkansas to get started this indoor season, but the Razorbacks rounded into championship form in less than 48 hours this weekend at the Tyson Invitational. The defending national champions tallied six automatic NCAA qualifications and eight provisional times and marks at the Randal Tyson Track Center in the two-day meet.
After an almost flawless first-day performance, the Razorbacks turned in another quality outing on Saturday netting three automatic and three provisional times.
“The weekend went about as well as it could have,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “I was really pleased. To be honest with you, I was getting worried. I really was. It seemed like they were all stuck in neutral or something. Like I have been saying, it just takes one or two guys to do something and then everyone realizes they can do it. That is what has happened. Everybody caught fire and said hey let’s just keep doing what we are capable of doing.”
In similar fashion to Friday night’s 5,000-meter performance, the Hogs dominated the 3,000-meter run earning three automatic times and a provisional qualifier. Junior Peter Kosgei crossed the line first in a career-best time of 7:53.48 to lead the Razorback pack. Seniors Josphat Boit (7:53.84) and Marc Rodrigues (7:54.78) were close behind and finished in second and third, respectively. For good measure, junior Adam Perkins added a provisional qualifying clip (8:02.45) to the mix giving the Hogs a total of four NCAA qualifiers in the event. Freshman Kenny Cormier (8:15.31) rounded out the Razorback contingent finishing 13th in the 3,000.
“I would have been happy with two (qualifiers) and if Marc Rodrigues would have gotten close, but I knew that Marc was physically ready to run,” McDonnell said. “He was looking great. I was so happy that he hung in there with Peter and Josphat. Then Shawn Forrest would have qualified also, but he helped with the pace. He sacrificed himself today. We will get that in the conference meet.”
The news was also good for the Razorbacks in the distance medley relay. Arkansas almost ensured itself of an NCAA entry by running the fastest time in the nation this season on Saturday. Although, the time of 9:34.16 fell just a shade off the automatic qualifying standard, it will most likely punch the relay team’s ticket to the national championships.
Freshman Chris Barnicle (1,200), freshman Jeremy Dodson (400), junior Brian Roe (800) and senior Said Ahmed (mile) combined for the NCAA provisional time. Ahmed ran a 4:00.00 mile split on the anchor leg to secure the victory and miss the automatic standard by just more than a second.
“That was a great race by them,” McDonnell said. “All of the young guys had personal bests except for Said. It is a shame that we didn’t get that one second. I think that time will get in, but when you are gunning for the national championship you can’t take a chance. But, for now we are No. 1.”
Senior Jaanus Uudmae added to the Razorbacks’ fast-growing qualifying list when he earned a provisional mark in the triple jump. Uudmae jumped 52-6 3/4 in his first triple jump competition in a Razorback uniform this season. Freshman Nkosinza Balumbu also tallied a provisional qualifying distance of 51-6 1/2 in a sixth-place finish. Balumbu recorded a season-best jump of 52-2 3/4 earlier this year at the Razorback Invitational.
“It’s big to have Jaanus back,” McDonnell said. “If you can six or eight points from one guy that is a lot of points when you are talking about 45 or 50 points winning it. Our jumpers are making a move.”
Jonathan Norris finished second and posted a personal-best time of 8:11.37 in the collegiate 3,000-meter run. Norris has shaved more than 30 seconds off his career best in that event this indoor season. Senior Luis Bordes placed fifth in the 3,000 clocking in at 8:25.45.
Freshman Mychael Stewart crossed the line seventh in the consolation heat of the 60-meter dash finals. Stewart ran 7.00 seconds after posting a time of 6.80 seconds in the preliminaries. The Bentonville (Ark.) High School product also competed in the collegiate triple jump on Saturday. He improved his season-best by a half inch jumping 48-11 1/2.
Three Razorback freshmen took to the starting blocks for the 200-meter dash. J-Mee Samuels earned a 21.60 clip in his first 200 of his Razorback career. Jeremy Dodson also carded a season-best 21.60 in his preliminary heat. Cedric Zellner crossed the line in 22.33. Samuels and Dodson tied for 12th while Zellner placed 38th overall.
Senior David Wittenmyer finished ninth in the 800-meter championship. The Texas native turned in a time of 1:53.50.
Junior Greg Martin upped his season-best mark in the high jump by a quarter of an inch. Martin finished ninth in the championship flight of the event with a jump of 6-11 3/4. Sophomore Brent Rosson finished tied for seventh in the collegiate high jump with a top-height of 6-5 1/2. Senior Tony Ugoh earned a seventh-place finish in the weight throw with a toss of 56-0.
The Razorbacks return to competition in two weeks when they travel to Gainesville, Fla., for the 2006 Southeastern Conference Championships. McDonnell said his team is healthy and appears focused for the championship run.
“Now, I think we are in a different mindset,” McDonnell said. “It is that kind of mindset that will win. That was all that needed to be done. We were in great condition and physically they were ready, but mentally they just weren’t in that mindset to win. If you are going to win, you have to think you are going win. You can’t just show up and expect someone to give it to you. No one just gives it to you. You have to go in there and fight.”
If the weekend was any indication of things to come, the Hogs’ competition better be prepared to go the distance if they want to knock out the defending league and national champions.