Omar McLeod knew he didn't have the training preparation for the 400 hurdles in day one, but he finished off day two and three in grand style as a big wave of Arkansas athletes punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon in two weeks.
McLeod ran the second fastest 110 hurdle race in UA history Saturday on the final night of the NCAA West Regional Track & Field Meet. McLeod clipped two hurdles, but still clocked 13.44, just off Kevin White's 13.41 in 1997.
McLeod's quick hurdle race was one of the many highlights for the three day meet for the Arkansas men and women. Stephanie Brown, running her last race at home, won her 1,500 heat in a cruise by 30 meters at 4:15.94.
Arkansas men's coach Chris Bucknam knows he's got a rare talent in McLeod, the SEC Freshman of the Year. His 110 hurdle race was superb, but there is room for improvement.
"If he hadn't the hit last two hurdles he might have got the school record," Bucknam said. "He took a peek at the end there at the kid from Oregon and it threw him off balance a little bit."
McLeod helped the Hogs qualify in the 400 meter relay with a strong achor, but Bucknam said there was room for improvement there, too. The Hogs clocked a season's best 39.37 with a relay of Eric Hawkins, Jarrion Lawson, Neil Braddy and McLeod. Hawkins and McLeod are both freshmen.
Hawkins just joined the team four weeks ago after finishing spring football. He was so strong in the lead leg that Bucknam might move him to the anchor at Eugene.
Bucknam was pleased.
"Eric ran a great leadoff leg," Bucknam said. "He has only been with us for what a month? He is definitely a SEC sprinter, no question about it which makes him a national class type of guy. He is just starting to get his feet under him, that was a great leg. That was a season's best time.
"Everybody ran good. All the handoffs were relatively clean. We've got to spread these guys out. The second exchange, Jarrion a great leg, but we can spread that out a little bit. Braddy ran up on Omar. Omar again, racing is new to him but he is figuring it out."
"We had a good three days," Bucknam said. "Oregon, Texas A&M and Florida all look tough, but we are used to that and we will be in the mix.
"Our guys have put it on the line since January. They love competing as Razorbacks and you saw that the last three days here. We had just the one set back (in the long jump) and otherwise we did what we wanted.
"Omar did a wonderful job. He is a great competitor. He showed us tonight what he's going to be. He battled."
"We got something great from Hawkins. He probably could have done something in the 100 or 200 but we chose not to put too much on him too fast. He's going to be great for us going forward."
Brown won her heat in the 1,500 by 30 meters. She is so smooth. She's a former sprinter that coach Lance Harter turned into a distance ace. She was second indoor in the mile. She'll have a shot in the 1,500 in Eugene. Brown ran 4:15.94, probably a little faster than she planned. Not a PR, but a strong time in a qualifying setting in a distance race.
"I went with 300 left, a little earlier than I had planned," Brown said. "I guess I got nervous running at home, had some jitters and just decided I'd go. I wanted to win.
"This was my last time to wear the Arkansas uniform on an Arkansas track. It's to go to nationals. I just didn't want to disappoint so I went ahead and took it early. I guess it's hard to run bad with all of that on the line. It was a lot of fun."
Brown said she knows it will be fun in Eugene with a big squad of Razorbacks.
"It's nice when we go out there and we have a squad," Brown said. "We have throwers making it now, vaulters, jumpers, the distance crew, the sprinters. We have a presence there. So it's nice to have a big tent with a lot of girls in it."
Kirsten Hesseltine qualified to Eugene in the high jump at 5-9 3/4. That's where they stopped and she was in the wave with fewest misses. The vault and high jump are weird in that they just stop when they are left with only 12 clearing a height.
Stanley Kebani advanced to Eugene in his second event, with a sixth in the 5,000. He had qualified in the steeplechase, his speciality, on Friday. Kebani ran 13:51.85.
"Stanley did an excellent job, didn't try to win the race," Bucknam said. "He just knew what the qualifying was and qualified, 12th place is as good as first at this meet.
"I think he is a dangerous guy in the 5K, kind of an unknown factor though he was sixth at the NCAA Cross Country championship. He is no slouch. He is in the steeple and the 5K and we're good to go."
The Hogs got their top two triple jumpers through. Raymond Higgs qualified in third at 52-2 3/4 and Anthony May made it in eighth at 51-10. The Hogs also made it through with their 4x400 team with Neil Braddy making up three spots in the anchor.
Brown Finishes in Style at Home
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