FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas head coach John McDonnell delivered a message to the Razorback track and field team this week. The road to defending the Hogs’ indoor national championship started this weekend at the Tyson Invitational. Judging from Friday’s performance at the Randal Tyson Track Center, the Razorbacks heard their legendary head coach loud and clear.
The Hogs entered the weekend with eight NCAA provisional qualifying performances and by the end of Friday’s action they doubled that number with an additional three automatic performances and five provisional times. After debuting in the inaugural Trackwire.com indoor poll at No. 1, the Razorbacks fell to fourth in the latest edition. They will most likely be on the way back up the rankings next week after Friday’s performances.
Nowhere was the Hogs’ revival more evident than in the 5,000 meters. Senior Josphat Boit, junior Peter Kosgei and sophomore Shawn Forrest blistered the track for the Razorbacks in racking up NCAA automatic qualifying times. Kosgei (13:40.63) finished second to Iona’s Richard Kiplagat (13:39.87) while Kosgei (13:46.88) and Forrest (13:47.72) finished fifth and sixth, respectively, in the talent-loaded field.
“We got three guys automatically qualified in the 5,000 and that was the shot in the arm that we needed,” McDonnell said. “It was good to see it in this meet because in the first few meets we were just going through the motions. Before it was kind of like ‘Do we have to be out here?’ Tonight changed all that.”
McDonnell said he wasn’t surprised that Boit, in particular, stepped forward to lead the Hogs. Boit and senior long and triple jumper Jaanus Uudmae appear to be emerging as the team leaders on this year’s squad.
“Josphat (Boit) really should be our leader and Jaanus (Uudmae) in the triple jump,” McDonnell said. “We have to have seniors like that step up. Josphat is going to step up. After watching him tonight, I think he is ready.”
Uudmae helped the Hogs jump the day off to a good start, literally. Led by the Estonia product, the Razorbacks gained three provisional qualifiers in the long jump. Uudmae made good on his 2006 Razorback debut by earning a personal-best and provisional qualifying jump of 25-2. The defending SEC triple jump champion finished fifth overall in the championship flight and secured a mark likely to make the NCAA field.
“Jaanus has had the flu this week and really didn’t work for two days,” Arkansas field events coach Dick Booth said. “I told him that we would only take three jumps today see how he felt and then triple jump tomorrow. His legs were pretty dead today. So to jump 25-2 under those circumstances was a good job.”
Junior Greg Martin finished third in the collegiate long jump and earned a provisional qualifying mark on Friday afternoon with a career-best jump of 24-7 1/4. It was Martin’s first long jump competition of the 2006 indoor season. Freshman Mychael Stewart also posted a provisional qualifying jump of 24-6 1/2 on his way to a fifth-place finish. Freshman Daniel Quinn placed ninth in the 34-man field with a jump of 24-0 1/4.
“You always hope when we are lagging behind on qualifiers that you can get somebody to get this thing kick-started,” Booth said. “We had a couple of young guys today get personal bests in the long jump. Among the SEC athletes at the meet, Jaanus (Uudmae) finished third, Martin finished fourth, Stewart finished fifth and Quinn finished seventh. That is a good start. That gets us going for the conference meet.”
Junior Brian Roe concluded the afternoon session with a solid outing in the 800 meters. The West Plains, Mo., native clocked a personal-best and NCAA provisional qualifying time of 1:49.42.
“I was proud of Brian’s effort in the 800,” McDonnell said. “He made some mistakes and wasn’t able to get around some guys, but he will learn from that. Today was an encouraging step for him.”
Senior Said Ahmed ran out of steam in the mile-run invitational, but still managed to claim a provisional qualifying time. Ahmed finished fifth with a time of 4:02.25. The Boston, Mass., product will likely have to improve that clip to secure his spot in the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Stewart (6.80) shaved six-tenths of a second off his season-best time, but failed to advance in the 60-meter dash. (6.80). Junior Creighton Kiper (7.11) also failed to qualify for the finals in his first 60-meter dash of the season.
A trio of Razorbacks took to the track in the 400 meters with senior David Wittenmyer (49.04), junior Brad Dittoe (49.66) and freshman Cedric Zellner (50.44) all recording season bests in the event.
Senior Eric Gross (4:13.97) and sophomore Tyler Hill (4:19.48) competed in the collegiate mile finishing sixth and 14th, respectively. Junior Scott MacPherson placed 10th in the mile run championship flight after crossing the line in 4:14.27. Senior Jimmy Duke placed seventh in the collegiate pole vault with a top height of 15-7 1/4.
Arkansas returns to the track on Saturday for the conclusion of the Tyson Invitational. Action at the Randal Tyson Track Center begins at 11 a.m. with final event slated for 5 p.m. Admission is $5 or free with a ticket stub from Friday night’s professional meet.