McDonnell Inks Strong Signing Class

FAYETTEVILLE -- Until last October, Chris Barnicle had grown used to disappointments with the Boston Red Sox and their 86-year drought between World Series titles.

Barnicle, the national prep leader in the two-mile and 3,200-meter runs from Newton High in Boston, won't expect anything similar next fall when he joins the perennial NCAA champion Razorbacks.

"We get a lot of disappointment and right now I feel like I'm going to be a Yankee next year," Barnicle said.

Barnicle is one of five Foot Locker Cross Country finalists, including national champion Kenny Cormier of Douglas, Ariz., who signed with Arkansas on Wednesday to complete possibly the best recruiting class John McDonnell has ever put together.

Cormier (first), Barnicle (sixth), Daniel LaCava (35th), Ben Schulz (38th) and Scott MacPherson (39th) all inked with Arkansas and joined triple jumper Nkosinza Balumbu of Union City, Calif., and sprinter J-Mee Samuels of Winston-Salem, N.C.

Cormier (mile), Barnicle (two-mile), Balumbu (triple jump) and Samuels (200) are all currently ranked No. 1 in their events.

McDonnell also added a fellow native Irishman in Colin Costello of Meath County, Ireland, who earned two silver medals at the European Youth Olympics in Paris last summer and finished second to former Razorback and seven-time NCAA champion Alistair Cragg in the 1,500 at the Irish National Championships.

Costello broke the Irish junior indoor record in the 1,500 with a time of 3:46.17.

"This is the best recruiting class we've had in some years, as far as the depth goes," McDonnell said. "We're a little top heavy in the distances, but my philosophy has always been if there are good athletes out there you have to get them, no matter what event they compete in.

"Good athletes win championships."

That was the case over the weekend at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational.

Samuels won the 200 (21.1), Balumbu won the triple jump (49 feet, 8 inches), Cormier won the mile (4:12.67) and Barnicle won the two-mile (8:56.2).

At the Texas Relays, MacPherson was named the Most Outstanding Athlete after he won the 1,600 and 3,200 on consecutive days in Austin.

Balumbu (the 'N' in his first name is silent and means "lion of the world"), who is ranked tops in the triple jump with a personal best of 52 feet, 4 inches, said he was talking to a couple of his teammates who'd committed to UCLA and Cal-Berkley at Arcadia and enjoyed bragging on his fellow Razorback commitments.

"We were talking about our freshman classes and I came up and told them about everyone who won at Arcadia and they couldn't say anything," said Balumbu, who was born in the U.S. as one of 11 children to his parents from Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Arkansas hasn't had an NCAA champion in the jumps since Melvin Lister in 2000 and field events coach Dick Booth may have his next one if Balumbu's goals are any indication.

"It's important to me to be in the (Arkansas) top 10 list if not No. 1," Balumbu said. "I'm looking at (nine-time NCAA champion and 1992 Olympic gold medalist) Mike Conley and saying, 'That's catchable. It's not impossible.'"

Samuels, who signed with Arkansas back in November after turning down sprint factories Tennessee and Florida, has a personal best of 20.58 in the 200 and 10.22 in the 100.

"It's a big privilege to be with a team that always wins NCAAs," Samuels said. "It's going to be even more tougher than before.

"It feels real good to know the top sprinters, the top jumpers and the top runners are signing with Arkansas."

He said he first started considering Arkansas and sprints coach Lance Brauman after Tyson Gay and Wallace Spearmon Jr. swept the 100 and 200, respectively, at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last June.

Gay will be gone next season to graduation and Spearmon may consider going pro after breaking the American record in the 200 during indoor season and winning his second NCAA title.

"They came up pretty good and I plan to keep it going," Samuels said. "(Brauman) is one of the best coaches in the nation. I'd say he's the best.

"He's a young coach, so he knows what you go through and he's a good person."

MacPherson, from Plano (Texas) Senior High has a personal best in the mile of 4:12 and LaCava's is 4:16. LaCava, from Hurst, Texas, is a National Merit Semifinalist, earned an academic scholarship to Arkansas and won't cost the track program a dime in financial aid.

"It's a chance to work with the best team and coach in the country," MacPherson said. "I want to excel in the track and field world and the best place to do that is Arkansas."

The recruiting class really took shape at the Foot Locker Nationals, said Barnicle, whose high school team hasn't lost a meet since he was a freshman.

"I knew Scott MacPherson was looking hard at Arkansas and I liked him a lot," he said. "I met Ken Cormier and he said he was pretty sure he was going to Arkansas. I was like, 'wow.' Then I met Daniel LaCava and he was going to Arkansas, Ben Schulz was going. They were all great guys I liked who would be pushing me on the track every day.

"That was really motivating for me."

McDonnell, 66, is also highly motivated after winning his 40th NCAA title last month in dramatic fashion.

Barnicle and MacPherson both said they asked McDonnell if he planned to be around for all four of his years at Arkansas.

The answer, they said, was a resounding yes.

"I just think he's having so much fun right now," Barnicle said. "The national championship they won this year indoors, he was so thrilled about. It was huge for him and the Arkansas program and I think that was a thrill for him. He's going to be thinking about that for a while.

"I'm sure he'll be going for No. 50 soon."

This class may get him there.

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