McDonnell Invitational Promises Nice Weather

FAYETTEVILLE -- After a year's absence, the John McDonnell Invitational returns today with the promise of good weather at John McDonnell Field.

Twenty-two high school teams began the competition on Friday, and 18 men's and women's college teams will join them beginning with field events at 9 a.m. today. Running prelims start at 11 a.m., with finals at 4, with special-guest performances by former UA Olympic sprinters Wallace Spearmon and Veronica Campbell. "I can remember bundling up in five or six layers at this meet," UA women's coach Lance Harter said. "But (today) it's supposed to be 75 degrees and sunny." McDonnell, who has coached Arkansas to 42 national titles, said, "Adding the high schools this year should be good for this meet and the future of track in Northwest Arkansas. There are a lot of good coaches and athletes in this area and the Fort Smith area." Arkansas is ranked just 20th by Trackwire and 16th by the college coaches this outdoor season, and McDonnell joked, "We're probably overrated." But in the next breath, McDonnell said, "We hope to be a great team next year. We've signed some very good people. This year we're just trying to win the SEC." Both Arkansas teams have been slowed by bad weather this spring, but both have managed to qualify a decent number of athletes for the NCAA Regional Meet, May 25-26 in Columbia, Mo. Despite an injury to Shawn Forrest and a relapse of mononucleosis by Kenny Cormier, Arkansas has had 11 qualifying marks in six men's events. Harter said, "We have 21 regional qualifiers, but we need better marks in the 4x100 relay and in the running events up to 800 meters." Hogs junior Peter Kosgei, who ranks third in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, will skip that event today because of a tender Achilles tendon, but may run the 1,500. Scott McPherson will run the steeplechase. Adam Perkins, who trained through the 1,500 at Mt. SAC in California, should improve his time today, as should UA teammates Chris Barnicle and Tyler Hill. Ditto Brian Roe in the 800. Sophomore sprinter J-Mee Samuels, who struggled indoors, could have a coming-out party today. "I'd like to see J-Mee open up a little more," McDonnell said. "His hamstring isn't hurt anymore, so maybe he can catch fire at home. He could give us a spark in the 100 meters." Harter said Denise Bargiachi should qualify in the 5,000 meters for Arkansas next week at Stanford, while the sprinters and hurdlers go to the Drake Relays and the jumpers and throwers enter the Penn Relays. For today, he said, "Louisiana Tech and our team should have some good matchups in the relays. Michelle Martin (knee injury) is out of the high jump, but our pole vaulters (Stephanie Irwin, Jodi Unger) should vault in the mid-13s." It may be shortly before the SEC Meet, May 10-13 at Tuscaloosa, Ala., before observers can truly handicap the teams, Harter said. "Other teams have had bad weather, too," he said. Harter said the Lady'Backs' goal nationally is a Top-20 finish. The UA men have some weapons -- Alan Bailey is No. 7 in the long jump and Nkosinza Balumbu is second in the triple jump -- but McDonnell said, "It's been a weird year. I hate to be a pessimist, but this is a good team, not great." JOHN McDONNELL INVITATIONAL WHEN: Today WHERE: John McDonnell Field FIELD: 22 high school teams, including 7A-West, Siloam Springs and Poteau, Okla.; 18 college teams including Arkansas, Iowa State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Oral Roberts SCHEDULE: Field events beginning at 9 a.m.; running prelims beginning at 11 a.m.; running finals beginning at 4 p.m. TV: None

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