Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
NCAA West Preliminaries:
McLeod boosts UA in 3 events
Arkansas freshman Omar McLeod, center, competes in the 110-meter hurdles during the third day of the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field West Preliminary Meet at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE --It took Arkansas freshman sprinter Omar McLeod several minutes to catch his breath Saturday night after he walked off the track at John McDonnell Field for the last time as the NCAA West Preliminaries came to a close.
McLeod's fatigue was understandable after he helped the Razorbacks advance to the NCAA Championships in three events. He advanced individually in the 110-meter hurdles and ran legs on the Razorbacks' 400 and 1,600 relays that advanced to the NCAA meet, which will be held June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
It was a nice comeback for McLeod after he opened the meet by finishing 27th in the first round of the 400 hurdles Thursday night.
"It just goes to show you what a great competitor he is and how smart he is," Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said. "He didn't let that first race in the 400 hurdles get to him.
"He came back and ran great. He can handle adversity."
McLeod, who came to Arkansas from Jamaica, ran the 110 hurdles in a personal-best 13.44 to take second in his heat and fourth overall. It was the second-fastest time ever by an Arkansas athlete, behind the 13.41 by Kevin White in 1997.
"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 [Devon Allen] and it threw him off balance a little bit."
McLeod anchored the 400-meter relay -- which also included Eric Hawkins, Jarrion Lawson and Neil Braddy -- to a season-best 39.37 to take second in their heat with the fourth-fastest time overall. Texas A&M, which won Arkansas' heat, had the top overall time in 38.84.
Hawkins, a receiver on the football team, didn't join the track team until after spring practice.
"Eric ran a great leadoff leg," Bucknam said. "He's only been with us for what? A month? He's definitely a SEC sprinter, which makes him a national-class type of guy.
"He's a big addition for our team. He's really going to help us."
McLeod ran the leadoff leg on the 1,600 relay followed by Travis Southard, Eric Janise and Braddy, who ran a strong anchor as the Razorbacks finished in 3:06.07, taking second in their heat.
"It was a spectacular night," McLeod said. "It was tiring weekend for me, but I'm really proud of myself that I was able to go out there and help the team.
"What happened in the 400 hurdles, I just put that behind me."
McLeod, who won the NCAA Indoor title in the 60 hurdles, said it was a little disappointing not to get a school record in the 110 hurdles Saturday night.
"I was in the lead, but didn't maintain my composure at the end," he said. "I was all over place, but I'll get it together for nationals."
McLeod was among 14 Razorbacks on the men's team advancing to nationals in 10 events. The top 12 in each event advance.
Arkansas seniors Raymond Higgs and Anthony May advanced in the triple jump. Higgs (52-2 3/4) was third and May (51-10) eighth. Both also advanced in the long jump Thursday night.
Arkansas senior Stanley Kebenei ran the sixth-fastest time (13:15:85) in the 5,000 to advance after qualifying in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Friday night.
"Stanley ran a very smart race," Bucknam said. "We talked about not trying to go out and win it, just get to the final, and that's what he did."
The Arkansas women's team advanced 16 athletes to nationals in 14 events.
Arkansas senior Stephanie Brown, an eight-time All-American, had the top time in the 1,500 meters at 4:15.98 to automatically advance to nationals. She took the lead in her heat with 300 meters to go and pulled away from the field.
"That's a little earlier than I usually move, but being on my home track I felt the excitement and a little bit of jitters," Brown said. "I just wanted to get out there and finish strong in front of my home crowd."
Brown, who took second in the mile at this year's NCAA Indoor meet, said it's exciting to be going to nationals as part of a large Arkansas contingent.
"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."
Arkansas senior Kirsten Hesseltine, from Springdale Har-Ber, cleared 5-9 3/4 to win the high jump. Seniors Dominique Scott and Diane Robison advanced for the Razorbacks in the 5,000. Scott ran 16.00.30 and Robison 16:21.67.
Arkansas capped the meet by advancing its 1,600 relay team of Daina Harper, Regine Williams, Chrishuna Williams and Taylor Ellis-Watson, who won their heat in 3:31.07.
"The meet went absolutely unbelievably for us," Arkansas Coach Lance Harter said. "As a coach, you always try to anticipate who you think can qualify, but we're so far beyond that in a positive way.
"To be able to do it at home makes it even more special."
Arkansas senior Sharika Nelvis race a personal best 12.66 to post the top time in the 100 hurdles and advance to nationals.
"I was trying to run 12.5," she said. "But I'll get that at Oregon."
Sports on 06/01/2014