FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – While the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships is still a month away, Arkansas’ trek towards a 42nd NCAA championship begins in earnest this weekend at the Tyson Invitational. The Razorbacks will compete with 28 of the nation’s top teams and a host of the top professional track athletes in the world during the two-day meet at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
The Hogs own eight provisional qualifications for the national meet, however, Arkansas as struggled to translate potential and quality training sessions into its usual multitude of NCAA qualifying times and marks. Arkansas head coach John McDonnell has seen his squad drop from No. 1 in the inaugural Trackwire.com national poll to No. 4 this week after a lackluster performance at last weekend’s New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York, N.Y. McDonnell says that his squad is quickly realizing that time is running short for securing NCAA spots.
“This weekend is very important,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We have been average so far and no one has stepped up. I think New York really woke us up. I think our guys realized ‘Hey’, the Tyson meet is the last one before conference and then the last chance meet. The workouts have been better this week. I will be very surprised if we don’t have some good performances this weekend. With the home crowd and the atmosphere, this is a good time to get some qualifiers.”
Arkansas has plenty of candidates capable of penciling their names on the NCAA event list. Senior Josphat Boit and junior Peter Kosgei already own provisional qualifying times in the 3,000 meters and the mile run, but will try to add the 5,000 meters to their resume on Friday night. Boit and Kosgei would ideally double in the 3K and 5K at the NCAA Championships. Sophomore Shawn Forrest and senior Seth Summerside will also try their chances in the 5,000 this weekend.
Senior Marc Rodrigues will try and turn in his second consecutive quality performance. In a tune-up for this weekend’s 3,000 meters, Rodrigues clocked a provisional qualifying time of 4:04.28 in the mile last weekend in the New Balance Collegiate Invitational. While that time may not be good enough to make the NCAA field, it is a positive sign that the South African native could be poised for a NCAA qualifying time in the 3,000-meter run. Junior Adam Perkins will aim to repeat his NCAA-provisional-qualifying performance in the event last year at the Tyson Invitational.
Freshmen Chris Barnicle, Kenny Cormier and Scott MacPherson have shown flashes of potential so far this indoor season. Barnicle will run his first 3,000-meter race this weekend while Cormier’s best in the event is eight seconds off the provisional standard. MacPherson recorded a season-best 8:20.78 at the Razorback Invitational. Seniors Luis Bordes and Josh Robles will also represent the Hogs in the 3,000 field.
“Marc ran a good time in the mile last weekend,” McDonnell said. “He is not really a miler, but I’m excited about him in the 3,000. We have the freshmen gearing up for the conference and they are looking good. Hopefully they will step up and do something good for us.”
The mile run has always been a goldmine for Arkansas runners and five Razorbacks will take a crack at that event during the course of the weekend. Senior Said Ahmed is the most experienced Hog runner of the hand full and will make his first attempt of the season at achieving a qualifying time. Ahmed has been concentrating on the 800 and ran a 1,000-meter race at the Boston Indoor Games in training for the stretch run. Senior Eric Gross, sophomore Tyler Hill, freshman Daniel LaCava and MacPherson will also take to the starting line in the mile.
McDonnell will be looking for some break-through performances at the shorter distances as well. Junior Brian Roe has shown signs of such an outing in the 800-meter run, but has yet to clock a corresponding time. Roe, Perkins, senior David Wittenmyer and junior Brad Dittoe will compete in the 800 this weekend for the Razorbacks. Wittenmyer and Dittoe also compose the Hogs’ 400-meter lineup.
Freshman sprinter J-Mee Samuels will make his debut in the 200-meter dash on Saturday. Samuels has already posted a provisional time in the 60-meter dash. Junior Creighton Kiper and fellow freshmen Jeremy Dodson and Cedric Zellner will join Samuels in the starting blocks. Kiper and sophomore Mychael Stewart will compete in the 60-meter dash as well.
The Tyson Invitational will also feature one of the nation’s best collections of competitors in field events. Senior Jaanus Uudmae will make his 2006 indoor debut in a Razorback uniform in the long and triple jumps. Uudmae is the defending SEC triple jump champion and scored in both events at last year’s conference meet.
Freshmen Nkosinza Balumbu, Daniel Quinn and Stewart will also double in the jumps this weekend. Balumbu won SEC Field Athlete of the Week honors earlier this season after provisionally qualifying in the triple jump. Quinn took second in the collegiate flight of the long jump last weekend trailing only his teammate Stewart. Stewart currently boasts the Hogs’ top long-jump of the season at 24-01 3/4. Sophomore Chessly Johnson has been suffering from a heel injury, but appeared to turn the corner last weekend. He will compete in the triple jump.
Junior Greg Martin and sophomore Brent Rosson will be back at it again in the high jump. Martin will also compete in the long jump for the Hogs. Senior Tony Ugoh will compete in the weight throw. The offensive lineman on the Razorback football team has a season-best throw of 59-0 3/4. Senior Jimmy Duke will take to the runway in the pole vault. Duke has already provisionally qualified in the heptathlon this season and is within striking distance of a similar fate in the pole vault.
With more than 30 athletes donning the cardinal and white this weekend, McDonnell is hopeful that the Tyson Invitational yields a more productive crop of qualifiers. With so much on the line, the legendary coach says motivation for his squad shouldn’t be an issue.
“You sometimes have guys say ‘I can’t get into this meet’ or something like that,” McDonnell said. “If you can’t get into this meet (Tyson Invitational), you can’t get into a meet. This is a big-time meet on Friday and then on Saturday we have 28 of the best schools in the country. If you can’t get excited about that then you aren’t going to get excited about the conference or nationals either.”
The Tyson Invitational runs Friday and Saturday with the first day of the collegiate action set for 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Friday. The professional section of the meet will take place on Friday beginning at 8 p.m. The meet will continue with collegiate competition on Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Fans may purchase tickets in advance for Friday night’s professional meet by calling the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce at (479) 521-5776 or 1-800-766-4626. Reserved seats are $20 and general admission is $10. More information is also available at www.tysoninvitational.org.
Fans may purchase $5 general admission tickets at the door on Saturday for the second day of the collegiate meet. Those fans with a ticket stub from Friday night’s professional meet will be admitted free of charge on Saturday. In addition, Friday’s first session (10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) of the collegiate meet is free and open to the public. The Randal Tyson Center will be cleared following Friday afternoon’s competition before doors open again for the professional meet.
Gates to the Randal Tyson Track Center open and John McDonnell bobbleheads will be distributed to the first 1,000 fans with a paid admission beginning at 7 p.m. on Friday night. The first event of the professional meet is set to begin at 8 p.m.