COLUMBIA, Mo. – Arkansas sophomore James Strang was the first Razorback to punch his ticket to the NCAA Championships on the first day of the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships on Friday.
Strang clocked a personal best 14:03.01 and earned a bronze finish in the 5,000 meters. His top-five finish, anchored by a 59-second final lap, guarantees him a spot in the NCAA Championships in Sacramento in June.
“I just said to myself ‘one more, one more, keep clipping them off’,” Strang said. “Every time I passed one, I got an energy boost. I just tried to hang tough and kept picking them off. I tried to stay with (Wisconsin’s Chris) Solinsky as long as I could. With the speed workouts we have been doing, I knew if I was in striking distance with 300 meters to go, I’d have a kick. Our speed work is what saved me.”
Strang stayed with the front pack for the entire race and, with two laps to go, was in 12th place. With 800 meters to go, Strang passed four runners and moved into eighth place on the bell lap. He quickly picked off five more runners to earn his third-place finish.
“(The 5,000 meters) was a great race to watch,” head coach John McDonnell said. “All four of our guys were up there with two laps to go. James (Strang) made that big move at the last lap and it paid off. He has a great future. He has been training a lot better and is getting used to a lot of speed work. He has a lot more speed than he thinks he has. He’ll be a player next year.”
“It was a good day,” McDonnell said, “You couldn’t ask for better really. The only one I thought would get in but didn’t was Mychael Stewart in the 100 meters but he has been battling a heel bruise. I was really pleased with today.”
Also in the 5,000 meters, Chris Barnicle finished seventh with a time of 14:06.01 and Matt Munoz was ninth with a clocking of 14:11.20. Both are eligible to receive at-large bids with their top 12 finishes.
“Those are all young guys and I was just hoping (one would qualify), if the pace was a little bit faster we may have had one more,” McDonnell said. “They all ran good and competed really well. Chris Barnicle has a 14:02 this season and he may make it in, too.”
J-Mee Samuels made a splash to start his first NCAA Regionals competition. He won his heat of the 100-meter dash prelims with a time of 10.38 and automatically advanced to the final.
“It always feels good to win,” Samuels said. “I’m just waiting it out and staying confident and relaxed until the finals. I felt good. I think there is room from improvement and I can fix some things in the finals. I’m not putting pressure on myself. I’m going out there trying to get to nationals.”
Samuels started the day anchoring the 4×100-meter relay to a time of 40.18, the heat winner. The relay, Cedric Zellner, Mychael Stewart, Clemore Henry and Samuels, earned an automatic spot in Saturday’s final with the fourth-fastest qualifying time.
“J-Mee (Samuels) did exactly what he needed to do,” assistant coach Kyle White said. “His confidence is up. He showed what he is made of and came across the line in first. Looking at the other heats, he’s right in the mix of things.”
Today’s race marked the first time the relay legs were run in that order. Typically running Zellner, Henry, Stewart and Samuels, Henry and Stewart switched spots in order for Stewart to run the straight away and avoid any more injury to his already-bruised heel.
Stewart, competing in three events on Friday, ended his day with a ninth-place finish in the long jump. Stewart marked a leap of 23-11.5 and is eligible for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships.
Earlier in the day, Stewart clocked a 10.73 in the prelims of the 100 meters and finished 20th overall.
Adam Perkins stretched his senior season to another day with the 12th and final qualifying time of 3:46.66 in the 1,500-meter prelims. Running strong in the opening three laps, Perkins, hampered by a sore calf and Achilles’ tendon, faded down the stretch and finished sixth in his heat.
“I’m trying to do my best each day,” Perkins said. “I’m just trying to recover. I couldn’t even walk after SECs. It’s a real challenge mentally. Unfortunately I was in a slower heat today and I’m not as big a kicker as I wish I was. I just got by and that’s all that matter right now. I’m taking it one day at a time.”
For complete results, schedule and details of the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, visit www.mutigers.com.