EUGENE, Ore. – The final day of the 2017 NCAA Outdoor Championships for the Arkansas men’s track and field team was a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the nationally ranked program, culminating into a final feeling of elation.
Resilient in their pursuit of an NCAA trophy the Hogs battled until the very end, earning a podium spot for the fourth time in the last five years at the outdoor national meet, on Friday night in Eugene.
“I’m incredibly proud of this team and my coaches,” head coach Chris Bucknam said. “They are fighters, with no quit in them. We talked this morning about putting 30-plus points on the scoreboard today if we wanted a chance to get on the podium for a top-four finish. Regardless of the fact that we only had one point on board at the time going into the final day. On, top of that, first place was out of reach and we knew it. But the fight this team showed today proved that our rich culture of competing for championships built by past Razorback track and field teams was important to this group of athletes.”
Entering the second day flying extremely low under the top-four radar Bucknam knew his team would have to fight and scrape for every possible point to land among the ranks of the best teams in the country.
Anchored by 2015 national champion Kenzo Cotton, Arkansas’ 4-x-100-meter relay team jumpstarted the Hogs rally for success with a seventh-place finish. Cotton was joined by Roy Ejiakuekwu, Kemar Mowatt and Josh Washington, all of whom did their part from the preliminary rounds through to the finals to keep the Razorbacks in the mix to place as a team.
Without entries in the next six running events, Arkansas’ focus shifted to the field where two-time NCAA indoor champion Clive Pullen was embroiled in an electrifying bout in the triple jump with Florida’s KeAndre Bates. Pullen got out to an early lead, marking a 54-foot leap on his first charge down the runway but found himself in second place, following a big third attempt by Bates.
The Jamaican Olympian promptly responded, besting Bates in the fourth round with a jump of 16.60m/54-5 1/2 but the talented Gator took advantage of a lofty tailwind, which lifted him back to top off a 55-foot mark. Pullen’s fifth attempt looked to be his best yet, but unable to land it, he completed his career as a Razorback with his head held high and eight points in hand for Arkansas as the national runner-up.
As the evening progressed, the Razorbacks regained a stake on the track with junior transfer Kemar Mowatt entered in the 400-meter hurdle finals. Mowatt was one of two entries in the field new to the NCAA final round in the event. Undaunted by the veteran finalists lined up in opposing lanes Mowatt raced ferociously around the oval, attacking each hurdle with renewed vigor. His efforts pushed him past two out of the top three finishers from 2016, earning him an improved program record (48.49), six points for Arkansas and a bronze medal.
Finish the Mission
With the end of the season finale looming, Arkansas continued to pick up steam through each passing event.
The next bright moment on an otherwise cold and dreary day came in the 5,000-meter run off the heels of junior Jack Bruce. Although recognized as a cross country and indoor All-American this year Bruce remained a dark horse in a race riddled with the best distance talent in the country. As the gun went off, the 25-lap race advanced at a rather pedestrian pace, playing into the hands of the long-legged and quick-footed Australian. With 600 meters left, Bruce made a bold move, striding towards the front of the pack from the outside and daring his competition to follow. His early advance proved too much to handle for 2016 cross country national champion Justyn Knight of Syracuse but was bested by the turnover of Stanford’s Grant Fisher. Bruce crossed the finish line as Arkansas’ second national runner-up of the day, collecting his third All-America honor in the process.
Razorback 4-x-400-meter relay team of Rhayko Schwartz, Eric Janise, Ejiakuekwu and Obi Igbokwe were Arkansas’ final bastions of the national meet. Leading off out of lane two, Schwartz worked double-time in an attempt to make up the stagger on SEC rivals Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida and Auburn. Senior quarter-miler Janise took on the baton as the second leg, picking off additional programs and positioning Arkansas well to contend for gold. Ejiakuekwu managed to clock an impressive sub-46 second split to keep the Razorbacks in the mix but Igbokwe’s 44.59-second lap highlighted the event and solidified Arkansas’ claim to a team podium finish. Their time of 3:01.84 broke the 17-year old program record formerly held by All-Americans Melvin Lister, Sam Glover, Ryan Stanley and Kevin Baker.
“On the final day we broke two school records; 48.34 in the 400 hurdles by Kemar Mowatt and 3:01.84 in the 4-x-400 for second,” Bucknam said. “In addition to those feats, we got a huge second place in the triple jump by Clive who had been hurt for six weeks and hadn’t taken a full approach since April and another huge second place by Jack Bruce in the 5,000 who ran an incredibly smart race in a very tactical race. Also a fast 38.82 by our 4-x-100 out of lane one for seventh. Those outstanding performances got us 32 points. I hope these athletes are proud of this fourth-place finish. They fought as hard today as any national championship team and for that I am proud of them.”
The Razorbacks were of one of three SEC teams to reach the NCAA podium, including No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas A&M. In total, eight SEC teams finished in the top-10 with only two outside programs (No. 3 Virginia and No. 9 Oregon), preventing complete conference domination.
NCAA Outdoor Scorers
5,000 Meters – Jack Bruce (2nd, 8 points)
400 Meter Hurdles – Kemar Mowatt (3rd, 6 points)
4-x-100 Meter Relay – Ejiakuekwu, Mowatt, Washington, Cotton (7th, 2 points)
4-x-400 Meter Relay – Schwartz, Janise, Ejiakuekwu, Igbokwe (2nd, 8 points)
Long Jump – Andreas Trajkovski (8th, 1 point)
Triple Jump – Clive Pullen (2nd, 8 points)
Team Scores (Top 10)
1. Florida – 61.5
2. Texas A&M – 59.5
3. Virginia – 36
4. Arkansas – 33
5. Auburn – 24
6. Georgia – 22.5
7. LSU – 20
8. Tennessee – 20
9. Oregon – 19.5
10. Alabama - 19
NCAA Day Two Results
5,000 Meters Finals
2. Jack Bruce – 14:35.88
400 Meter Hurdles Finals
3. Kemar Mowatt – 48.49
4-x-100 Meter Relay Finals
7. Ejiakuekwu, Mowatt, Washington, Cotton – 38.82
4-x-400 Meter Relay Semifinals
2. Schwartz, Janise, Ejiakuekwu, Igbokwe – 3:01.84
2. Clive Pullen – 16.60m/54-5 1/2
13. Gabe Moore – 7,527 points
16. 100m – 10.96 (870 pts.)
15. Long Jump – 23-3 1/4w (835)
5. Shot Put – 46-3 1/2 (735)
15. High Jump – 6-2 1/4 (705)
18. 400m – 49.78 (825)
17. 110mH – 15.04 (845)
3. Discus – 43.72m/143-5 (741)
17. Pole Vault – 4.41m/14-5 1/2 (734)
12. Javelin – 54.20m/177-10 (651)
17. 1,500m – 4:55.50 (586)
18. Derek Jacobus – 7,126 points
12. 100m – 10.86 (892 pts.)
10. Long Jump – 24-0 1/4 (891)
18. Shot Put – 42-2 (658)
24. High Jump – 5-10 3/4 (627)
10. 400m – 49.23 (850)
23. 110mH – 16.17 (714)
18. Discus – 37.32m/122-5 (610)
15. Pole Vault – 4.41m/14-5 1/2 (734)
21. Javelin – 43.67m/143-3 (496)
10. 1,500m – 4:44.28 (654)