LEXINGTON, Ky. – Arkansas track and field ended its losing streak in Lexington by scoring 126 points to take the 2007 SEC Indoor title. While only one Hog was crowned an individual champion, Nkosinza Balumbu in the triple jump, a total team effort was the theme of the final day to put points on the board as the Razorbacks earned 31 All-Southeastern Conference accolades.
“This is a really special win because we have really been up and down this season,” head coach John McDonnell said. “This was a great time to put it together. We had the talent and we put it together this weekend.”
The Tennessee Volunteers didn’t make it easy for the Hogs as they scored 115.5 points for a second-place finish. The point margin is the smallest since Arkansas defeated the Vols by seven points at the event in Fayetteville in 2002. Florida rounded out the top three with 93.5 points.
“I thought we could score 130 points and that’s maxing out,” McDonnell said. “We got 126 and we didn’t run the 4×400-meter relay because we didn’t need to. We went back to the old tradition of the jumpers and the distance guys (scoring points). They did a great job, absolutely. They set that tone that we were coming to defend our title and that was key.”
Arkansas finished the weekend with only one individual event title. This is the first time the Hogs have won the team title with only one ten-point scorer. In 2003, the squad mustered the team title with only three individual event titles from Alistair Cragg (mile, 3,000 meters) and Daniel Lincoln (5,000 meters). The Razorbacks rebounded with four runner-up finishes from Alain Bailey (long jump), Adam Perkins (mile), Tyler Hill (5,000 meters) and the distance medley relay.
“This is a very tough conference and we needed a total team effort,” McDonnell said. “They don’t give away first places very easily. If you falter a little bit, there are too many good teams in this conference, one of them is going to come after you. We never showed a weakness at any time and that’s what won the title.”
The jumpers once again got the day started off well. After compiling 26 points in Saturday’s high and long jumps, the crew came back with six entries in the triple jump.
The 2006 runner-up, Nkosinza Balumbu secured his first indoor title win on a 52-2 leap with his teammates cheering him on from the infield.
“The runway is hard and I wasn’t jumping as well as I wanted to start off,” Balumbu said. “I was jumping right around 50 feet. When the rest of the team got here to cheer us on, it really motivated me.”
Balumbu’s mark of 52-2 is an indoor personal best and came on his fifth attempt. The mark also improves his standing on the national list.
“It’s an indoor personal best so I’m happy with that,” Balumbu said. “It was good to have the rest of the guys out here cheering us on. It got me really excited to jump.”
Mychael Stewart, fresh off a fourth-place finish in the long jump, rallied for a third-place finish in the triple jump. Stewart bruised his heel on his second attempt (50-0.75), passed for two jumps, fouled and then passed on his final jump after knowing his prelim mark of 50-0.75, also a personal best, would be good for a bronze finish.
Daniel Quinn earned the fourth All-SEC honor of his career with a fourth-place finish and a personal-best leap of 49-2.5. After coming up empty in Saturday’s high jump, Greg Martin rebounded with a sixth-place finish and three team points with his leap of 49-1.75.
The Tennessee Volunteers took a four-point lead after placing three athletes in scoring position in the pole vault and scoring 17 points in the 60-meter dash.
Not helping the Razorbacks cause was J-Mee Samuels. Samuels jumped the gun in the 60-meter dash leaving the weight of the team score on the injured Stewart’s shoulders. Despite bruising his heel during the triple jump, Stewart went on to clock a 6.77 and finish seventh. He also earned two points for the team total.
Adam Perkins made the mile-run race very interesting. Razorback Micky Cobrin took the race out and led with about three laps to go. Perkins, along with Felix Kiboiywo of Auburn and Emmanuel Bor of Alabama, floated among the top three through out the event. Perkins took the lead at the bell lap and battled with Bor for the lead spot.
Bor and Perkins crossed the finish line .01 seconds apart with Bor the title winner. Perkins did earn eight points for the Hogs and also got his first provisional-qualifying mark this season in the mile.
Also for the Hogs in the mile, Colin Costello finished fifth (4:05.45) and Daniel LaCava was sixth (4:05.78). LaCava earned the first All-SEC honor of his career while Costello now has three awards on his resume.
Third time around was a charm for Tyler Hill as he finished second in the 5,000 meters. Running in his third event of the meet, Hill, who floated among the scoring pack with teammates Peter Kosgei, Scott MacPherson, Matt Munoz and James Strang, broke away from the pack with about 600 meters to go but couldn’t hold off Georgia’s Ian Burrell, last night’s 3,000-meter champion and eventual race winner.
“He’s a good runner and always has been,” McDonnell said. “He finally reached his potential today. He was relaxed, he got in there and went for it. He has turned the corner.”
Razorback Chris Barnicle paced the race and led until he stepped off the track at the two-mile mark. Ole Miss’ Barnabus Kirui also challenged the Razorbacks and Burrell for position.
Hill came away with his first provisional time, 14:02.27, as his teammates claimed third (Kosgei, 14:10.49), fourth (Strang, 14:11.76), fifth (MacPherson, 14:12.41) and eighth places (Munoz, 14:27.42).
“I’m definitely happy with the race and the way everything went,” Hill said. “It has been four long years of waiting to do something big like this. I’m a redshirt junior and I have been waiting to have a breakout race like this. I felt really good the whole way. With about 600 meters to go, I made my move and tried to get a good kick out of some of those kickers.”
Brian Roe and Costello scored seven crucial points in the 800-meter final. A rough race from the gun, Roe earned a bronze finish with a time of 1:49.64 while Costello finished eighth (1:51.49).
After the 800 meters, Arkansas’ lead over Tennessee moved to 31 points but the Volunteers made a comeback with the 200 meters as they scored 16 points with first and third-place finishes.
Going into the distance medley relay, Arkansas held the title lead at 118-102.5. The Vols took the lead in the DMR with about two laps to go in the leg and never relinquished.
LaCava came back to run the opening 1,200-meter leg and split a 2:59.5. He handed off to Clemore Henry who clocked a 47.4 400-meter leg. Roe, still trailing Tennessee, turned in a 1:53.1 800-meter leg and handed off to Perkins to anchor. Perkins couldn’t chase down Tennessee and finished second with a 4:09.8 mile split. The squad combined for a clocking of 9:49.79.
Despite the second-place finish, the Hogs clinched the victory, 126-112.5, with the 4×400-meter relay still to go.
The Hogs will part ways next weekend in hopes of earning more NCAA-qualifying marks before the NCAA Indoor Championships, March 9-10, in Fayetteville.
For complete results of the 2007 SEC Indoor Championships, visit www.ukathletics.com.
2007 All-SEC Performers
Alain Bailey: high jump, 3rd; long jump 2nd
Nkosinza Balumbu: long jump, 8th; triple jump, 1st
Colin Costello: 800 meters, 8th; mile, 5th
Clemore Henry: DMR, 2nd
Tyler Hill: 5,000 meters, 2nd
Peter Kosgei: 3,000 meters, 4th; 5,000 meters, 3rd
Daniel LaCava: mile, 6th; DMR, 2nd
Scott MacPherson: 3,000 meters, 3rd; 5,000 meters, 5th
Greg Martin: triple jump, 6th
Matt Munoz: 3,000 meters, 6th; 5,000 meters, 8th
Adam Perkins: mile, 2nd; 3,000 meters, 8th; DMR, 2nd
Daniel Quinn: long jump, 7th; triple jump, 4th
Brian Roe: 800 meters, 3rd; DMR, 2nd
Boris Roslov: heptathlon, 7th
Brent Rosson: high jump, 4th
Mychael Stewart: 60 meters, 7th; long jump, 4th; triple jump, 3rd
James Strang: 3,000 meters, 7th; 5,000 meters, 4th