FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Better weather couldn’t have been asked for and Arkansas head coach John McDonnell felt the same way about his athletes’ performances. Arkansas track and field secured a slew of regional-qualifying marks on their home turf at Saturday’s John McDonnell Invitational.
“We had great competition, so I couldn’t be more pleased with the meet,” McDonnell said. “The weather was just perfect. I couldn’t ask for anything better. The wind was calm throughout the whole day and that is what we like to have for outdoor meets.”
Arkansas excelled in all aspects of track and field on Saturday. A beautiful day in Fayetteville and solid competition from around the country only helped the Razorbacks to the success they found.
“We had a really good meet,” McDonnell said. “We qualified a lot of people for the regional championships. In the 1,500 meters we qualified three but I think we would have had one more but one of our guys got tripped and almost knocked out two of our other guys.”
No one loves competing at the John McDonnell Invitational more than J-Mee Samuels. For the past two years, Samuels has thrived on his home track with great competition at his side.
“This meet seems to be my starting point every year,” Samuels said. “I opened the season up with the 200 meters last year and that went really well. Even though I was pretty tired before the 200 meters today, I still did pretty well to go 20.5. As far as the 100 meters, that is one of the best races I have run these past two years. I still have a lot to work on but training is going really well so hopefully I will keep setting PR’s.”
Today was no different for the junior from Winston-Salem, N.C. Running in three events, track fans were treated to three great races from Samuels.
“I knew he was ready to run,” Arkansas sprints coach Kyle White said. “I have been holding him back in practice. He’s so fresh and so ready but we were wanting to peak here because the weather is so unpredictable at Penn and it’s just a relay meet. This was it; this is the time to go. We knew that he needed to run all three races today.”
Samuels started the day with the 100-meter dash where he clocked a 2.3 wind-aided time of 10.12. His clocking, a better regional-qualifying mark, ranks No. 3 in the nation, No. 2 in the SEC and is the second-fastest wind-aided time in school history. Samuels also set a collegiate personal best in the 100 meters.
“He felt tired in the 200 meters and I explained to him that is what happens when you run 10.13 with a sub-4.0 wind,” White said. “It’s going to take a lot out of you. We got into the relay and I told him to take it easy but he’s a competitor and he got the baton and decided to run some people down.”
In his next race, the 4×100-meter relay, poor handoffs ruined what could have been a solid outing. Samuels took the anchor leg and did all he could to earn a second-place finish for the Hogs.
In his final event of the day, Samuels again wowed the crowd with a win in the 200 meters. He clocked a time of 20.55, ranking second in the nation and second in the SEC. His 200-meter clocking is the ninth-fastest time in school history and is a collegiate personal best.
“J-Mee Samuels had a great day,” McDonnell said. “He is just getting better and better. In the 800 meters, Chris Bilbrew broke 1:50 for the first time and that is a huge break through for him. I’m very proud of him and the way he competed. It was nice seeing Alex McClary back in good form because he was sick for the end of the indoor season.”
The jumps crew also produced big marks for the Hogs. Alain Bailey, in his outdoor long jump debut, marked a leap of 25-8.75 to win the event and secure his spot in the postseason with a regional qualifier. His jump is a personal best, ranks fifth in the nation and leads the SEC by more than four inches.
Daniel Quinn finished second behind Bailey in the long jump. Also setting a personal best, Quinn earned his runner-up finish with a jump of 25-4.5. His leap, a regional-qualifying mark, ranks second in the SEC and seventh in the nation.
Mychael Stewart competed with Samuels in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. He clocked a 100-meter regional-qualifying time of 10.50, good for a fifth-place finish. In the 200 meters, he finished fourth and just missed the regional-qualifying time with his clocking of 21.40.
The 800 meters and 1,500 meters were great races for the crowd and great races for the Razorbacks. Chris Bilbrew and Alex McClary both recorded regional qualifiers in the 800-meters. Bilbrew, dipping below 1:50 for the first time in his career, finished third with a time of 1:49.90. His clocking is a personal best and is the third-fastest time run by a freshman this season. McClary was right behind him with a time of 1:49.99, good for a fifth-place finish.
Famous for its milers, McDonnell and the Hogs didn’t disappoint. The race yielded three regional-qualifiers and had the potential for one more but a little jostling among runners on the final curve took one of the Arkansas runners out of contention.
Micky Cobrin led the way with a sixth-place finish and a time of 3:44.25, a personal best. Andy McClary clocked a 3:44.59, good for a seventh-place finish. Duncan Phillips, clocking a personal best, finished eighth with a 3:44.93.
Michael Chinchar was right in the race with his teammates but a near trip took him out of contention with just over 100 meters to go in the race. He finished 17th overall and 13th in his heat with a time of 3:48.12, just off the regional-qualifying time of 3:47.
Shawn Forrest was the final Hog to run Saturday night and took full advantage of the crowd cheering him on. He clocked a personal-best 5K time of 13:53.30. He won the 5,000 meters, punched his ticket to the postseason, clocked the SEC’s second-fastest time this season and now ranks sixth in the nation.
The Razorbacks will return to competition at the running of the 114th Penn Relays, at historic Franklin Field, April 24-26, 2008. For more details on Arkansas track and field, visit www.hogwired.com.