Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Irwin’s comeback lifts Arkansas
Arkansas jumper Andrew Irwin clears the bar on one of his attempts in the pole vault during the Arkansas Invitational indoor track meet Friday afternoon at the Randal Tyson Track Complex in Fayetteville. Irwin finished in first place with a jump of 5.05m.
FAYETTEVILLE - The Arkansas men’s track program is back in position where it might be able to defend its SEC and NCAA Indoor championships.
Thanks to the efforts of junior pole vaulter Andrew Irwin.
Irwin, returning from November groin surgery, had not vaulted beyond 16-10 3/4 in two early season meets, a mark not only below the NCAA qualifying standard but nowhere close to being competitive at the SEC meet, which featured Ole Miss’ Sam Kendricks, current Indoor leader (18-8 1/4) and reigning NCAA Outdoor champion, and four others at 17-9 or better.
But Irwin, a two-time SEC Indoor/two-time NCAA Indoor pole-vault champion, and the UA school record holder indoors and outdoors (18-8 1/4 and 18-9 1/4) posted a vault of 18-4 1/2 at the Tyson Invitational a week ago Saturday, surpassing the NCAA Indoor qualifying standard and providing optimism for the Razorbacks, who defend their team titles at the SEC Indoor Championships Thursday through Saturday in College Station, Texas and the NCAA Indoor Championships March 14-15 in Albuquerque, N.M.
Irwin was an integral part of Arkansas ’ 2013 SEC/NCAA Indoor sweep but for 2014 appeared would have no part until soaring to No. 3nationally at Tyson.
What presumed was just a nagging but healing groin strain from a July vault actually was an aggravated tear. He underwent surgery in November.
Razorbacks Vault Coach Doug Case had Irwin on a 12-step program when the indoor season began in January.
Approaching the bar a full four steps shorter than his customary 16 steps helped Irwin’s health but vastly shortened his vault.
Irwin and Case pondered ceasing Irwin’s season and applying for a medical hardship restoring his 2015 junior eligibility or vault beyond the redshirt point of no return before the Tyson Invitational.
Practice would decide if Irwin was up to taking the extra steps to compete.
“I had a good short-run practice on Monday,” Irwin said, “I came back and had a real good long run (14-steps) practice on Wednesday. We decided we could go make a bar good enough to do something with and we did.”
Case, a low-key coach, acknowledged the high drama.
“I told him, ‘This is it, do or die. We make a bar or the season is almost blown,’ ” Case said. “But I knew if we could get his run dialed in he would make it happen and he did.”
It’s difficult to believe a couple more steps mean so much.
“But it does,” said Irwin, who is planning on 16 steps at the SEC meet.
“The running aspect is a lot different and you can jump on bigger poles. It’s definitely going to help out.”
The Hogs need Irwin’s help, with Arkansas All-American distance runner Kemoy Campbell likely to redshirt because of a foot injury and All-American distance runner Stanley Kebenei recently recovered from mononucleosis, when battling second-ranked Florida and third-ranked Texas A&M, for SEC and national supremecy.
Sports, Pages 16 on 02/24/2014