2009 Men's Track & Field Preview
Under the direction of first-year head coach Chris Bucknam, the Razorbacks return a potent group of upperclassmen and welcome a talented and diverse group of newcomers for the 2009 indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.
"I’m so excited to be part of the Arkansas program," Bucknam said. "This is a great team with a lot of depth in many different events. The potential is endless."
Highlighting the Arkansas roster in 2009 are returning All-Americans J-Mee Samuels, Scott MacPherson, Nkosinza Balumbu, Shawn Forrest, Mychael Stewart, James Strang, Andy McClary and Alain Bailey. Bucknam and his staff, Dick Booth (field events) and Doug Case (sprints, hurdles, pole vault) will depend on this crew of veterans to lead and nurture the 2009 version of the Razorback track and field team.
"We are so lucky to have a large group of successful upperclassmen," Bucknam said. "These guys have some great competition experience under their belts, from NCAA Championships, Olympic Trials and World Championships. I’ll count on them to take these underclassmen under their wings to help make the coaching transition as smooth as possible."
Twenty-eight year Arkansas veteran Booth has assembled another strong field events group, led by 2008 NCAA Indoor triple jump champion Nkosinza Balumbu and two-time SEC long jump champion Alain Bailey. Balumbu is a five-time All-American and a five-time SEC Champion in his signature event.
"Having Dick Booth on our staff is a tremendous asset," Bucknam said. "He is a veteran of the trade in every sense of the word. He has a great eye for recruiting talent and is one of the best jumps coach in the nation. What his athletes have accomplished collegiately and professionally is very impressive."
"Nkosinza Balumbu and Alain Bailey are the leaders of the field event crew," Bucknam said. "Nkosinza is a terrific athlete and person. His work ethic and determination are an excellent example for the rest of the team. He is the heart and soul of this team and embraces that leadership role with open arms."
Bailey is a force in the long jump and can also produce in the high jump for the Hogs. His relay duties may come to an end the season but he is also a potential leg if need be.
Seniors Daniel Quinn (long jump, triple jump), Mychael Stewart (long jump, triple jump, relays), and Brent Rosson (high Jump) and sophomore Spencer McCorkel (pole vault) are also expected to contribute in their respective events. Quinn has scored numerous points on the conference level and made a huge breakthrough in 2008 when he qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Stewart, a 2007 indoor long jump All-American, is a workhorse for the Hogs. While he only has an outdoor season left, his presence is invaluable because of his promise in so many events.
McCorkel was an NCAA outdoor qualifier, the SEC outdoor runner-up and was one of the top freshman vaulters in the nation.
Luke Laird and Kyle Komarek also return for the javelin in 2009. Laird had a fairy tale season in 2008 when he won the SEC title, qualified for the regional championships and became a national qualifier all within a matter of weeks. He also went on to win the USA Junior title in the event.
Joining the field events group for 2009 is long jumper Tarik Batchelor, a high school teammate of Bailey. He is a World Junior Championships qualifier and finished third at Jamaica’s 2008 Olympic Trials.
Samuels, a 2007 World Championships qualifier, leads a young but experienced group of sprinters for Case, in his first season at Arkansas. Samuels was a two-time All-American during the 2008 indoor season, scoring in both the 60 meters and the 200 meters. He clocked four PRs in the four races he ran at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
"J-Mee Samuels has so much talent," Bucknam said. "He was really starting to hit his stride at the end of the outdoor season. I hope he takes on that leadership role within the sprints group because we have so many young guys in that area. They are talented, no doubt, but they’ll need someone to look up to while adjusting to collegiate track and field and J-Mee is just the guy."
Joining Samuels are senior sprint veterans Stewart and Cedric Zellner, mainstays on Arkansas’ nationally-qualifying 4×100-meter relay. Joining the Hogs for the season will be sprint standouts Travis Nollsch, Ben Skidmore and Jake Stephens, just to name a few. Nollsch and Skidmore are both short-sprint specialists while Stephens, the son of Razorback great Randy Stephens, is an Alabama state champion in the 400 meters and 800 meters.
Par for the course, Arkansas’ distance runners are expected to shine during both the indoor and outdoor seasons at the varying distances.
Leading the pack are seniors Forrest, MacPherson, Alex McClary, Andy McClary and Strang. Forrest was the 2008 NCAA runner-up at 10,000 meters, Strang the SEC Champion at 5K and MacPherson (steeplechase) and the McClary brothers (800, 1,500, mile) are national qualifiers in their respective events. Andy McClary was also an All-American in the mile.
"I’m excited to see Shawn Forrest return to the track," Bucknam said. "He had an outstanding season in 2008 and got to rest and recover during the cross country season because he didn’t have cross country eligibility. He will be a difference maker for us."
Forrest, MacPherson and Strang can contribute at various distances, including the 3,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters with MacPherson specializing in the steeplechase.
"Scott MacPherson made huge strides during the cross country season and capped off the season earning All-America honors for the second time," Bucknam said. "I expect him to carry that momentum onto the track. He’s such a fierce competitor and that’s a key element to being a strong steeplechaser."
"James Strang is another guy we can’t wait to have back in uniform," Bucknam said. "He couldn’t compete during cross country because of an injury but he is quickly returning to 100 percent and his depth in the distance events will hopefully be a highlight for us this winter and spring."
Adding to the Razorbacks depth will be junior Dorian Ulrey, a transfer from Northern Iowa. Ulrey was the 2008 NCAA runner-up at 1,500 meters and will be another weapon to consider for the middle-distance events.
Ulrey was held out of the cross country season while adjusting to the transfer but had a great fall of training and has immersed himself into the Arkansas way.
Chris Bilbrew, Lane Boyer, Michael Chinchar, Daniel LaCava and Duncan Phillips will also be in the middle distance and distance mix. The 2008 SEC Indoor Freshman Runner of the Year, Bilbrew made big strides in the 800 meters in 2008, dipping below 1:50 for the first time in his career. He is expected to contribute in the open event and as a member of the relays at the various relay carnivals.
LaCava anchored the SEC Champion distance medley relay and was a regional qualifier in the 1,500 meters. Phillips is in the same boat with the ability to run the 800 meters and 1,500 meters. Phillips was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team during both indoor and outdoor seasons.
Freshmen Eric Fernandez and Rick Elliott were outstanding additions to the Hog lineup during the cross country season, both being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team. They are expected to contribute immediately once they hit the track. Joining the middle distance crew are freshmen Rob Redwine and Dylan Roberts, both specializing in the 800 meters.
"Rick (Elliott) and Eric (Fernandez) got a good taste of what collegiate running is all about during the cross country season," Bucknam said. "They responded as well as I could have hoped for. These guys are the future of the Arkansas distance group."
The Razorbacks begin the indoor season with the Arkansas Invitational (Jan. 9), the Missouri Southern Invitational (Jan. 16-17) and the Razorback Invitational (Jan. 23-24). The first road trip of the season will come the last weekend of January for the UW Invitational (jan. 30-31).
Next up is the New Balance Collegiate Invitational (New York, N.Y.; Feb. 6-7) and the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville (Feb. 13-14).
Indoor championship season begins with the SEC Championships, Feb. 27-March 1, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas will host a Last Chance Meet on March 6 before the NCAA Championships are contested March 13-14 in College Station, Texas.
The outdoor season begins with the Stanford Invitational (March 27-28), Texas Relays (April 1-4) and the Sun Angel Classic at Arizona State (April 10-11). The Razorbacks will host the John McDonnell Invitational (April 17-18) and then take on the historic Penn Relays (April 23-25).
Outdoor championship season begins with the SEC Championships, May 14-17, in Gainesville, Fla. Next up are the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, May 29-30, in Louisville, Ky. Arkansas will end the season hosting the NCAA Championships, June 10-13, at John McDonnell Field.
It will mark the first time in school history that Arkansas has hosted the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.