COLUMBIA, Mo. – Despite inclement weather, including thunder and lightning, Arkansas came away from the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships with five automatic qualifiers.
“It was a good day, all things considered,” head coach John McDonnell said. “For the number of people we brought here, we had a pretty good meet. I’m happy with the numbers we have going to Nationals. I think Adam Perkins has a good chance of getting an at-large big. Peter (Kosgei) ran a great time and he’s been sick with strep throat all week.”
The 4×100-meter relay started the Hogs off strong with a runner-up finish and a time of 39.77, a season best. Led off by Cedric Zellner, Mychael Stewart, Clemore Henry and J-Mee Samuels punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships with their top-three finish.
“I’m just glad we can contribute to the team,” assistant coach Kyle White said. “I’m really proud of the relay. I knew those guys had it in them. I couldn’t be any more proud.”
Stewart, an All-American in the long jump during the indoor season, will get another chance at an All-America honor after a difficult day in the 100-meter prelims and long jump on Friday which landed him out of automatic qualification.
“It feels really good to know we are going to Nationals, especially after not making it in the long jump yesterday,” Stewart said. “I just wanted to come back today and run a good relay. We have three other guys on the relay that really wanted to go to Nationals and I just wanted to come out and help them get there.”
Defending NCAA Champion LSU won the event with a time of 39.53. Tennessee, coming in with the nation’s fastest time of 38.91 and the fastest qualifying time of 39.51, dropped the baton on the first exchange and finished eighth.
“I thought we couldn’t have done any better today,” Samuels said. “It was a personal best for our relay and we have some people injured. I’m looking forward to Nationals to see how we do and how we can put it together. I think we can surprise a lot of people.”
Later in the day, Samuels came back to run a 10.29 in the finals of the 100 meters. His time was good enough for a fourth-place finish and an automatic trip to Nationals.
“It feels good to know we are going to Nationals,” Samuels said. “We lost a lot of guys the last two years and we are rebuilding the sprints group. I’m glad to be a part of that. I thought the relay went pretty well. I thought we did the best we could do today.”
“I think J-Mee (Samuels) got caught sleeping a little bit in the 100 meters,” White said. “He was a little worried about false starting. That was the only thing that could have kept in him out of the national meet. (His start) was very minimal. He ran with them the whole way. He knows he can run with them. He’s (going to NCAAs) and that’s all that matters.”
Nkosinza Balumbu finished fifth in the triple jump to secure his spot to Nationals for the fourth time in his young career. Balumbu’s leap of 51-9 punched his ticket to Sacramento to jump in front of a hometown crowd.
“I want to win every event I enter but coming out of the competition is the best thing,” Balumbu said. “I didn’t feel my sore foot at all. I was a little sluggish but I’m happy. I’m glad I came out healthy and with confidence going into Nationals. I have two weeks to prepare (for Nationals) and my family will be out there to watch be jump.”
Peter Kosgei was the last qualifier of the night with a fourth-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Running in only his second steeplechase race of the season, Kosgei clocked a time of 8:39.94 to earn his fourth-place finish. His spot secures his trip to the NCAA Championships.
In potentially the last race of his career, Adam Perkins was warmed-up and ready to go in the 1,500-meter final but was delayed by a one hour and five minute lightning delay.
Already battling a sore Achilles and calf on his left leg, Perkins finished 10th in his event with a time of 3:49.45. Perkins’ season-best time of 3:43.32 sat at 26th on the national list and has the potential to earn him an at-large bid.
“The race went out really fast for the first 150 meters,” Perkins said. “I didn’t think they were going to do that. I haven’t been doing hardly any speed work. I wasn’t ready for something like that. My foot is really bothering me and it was hard to warm-up on it. We had a delay and I had to warm-up again. I was feeling really good with a lap to go but they just took off. I hope for the best and I hope it works out that I can get in (to NCAAs) on an at-large bid.”
Kyle Komarek finished eighth in the javelin with a 204-1 and, with his top 12 finish, could earn an at-large bid.
With James Strang’s third-place finish in the 5,000 meters Friday night, Arkansas now totals five automatic qualifiers for the NCAA Championships.
Chris Barnicle in the 5,000 meters, Stewart in the long jump, Komarek in the javelin and Perkins in the 1,500 meters are eligible to receive an at-large bid based on their top 12 finishes. The declaration list is scheduled to be released Tues., May 29, at 2 p.m.
For complete results, schedule and details of the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, visit www.mutigers.com.