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.
UA men, women finish 9th at NCAA championships
Arkansas runner Stanley Kebenei makes the final water jump as he stays in front of Oregons Tanguy Pepiot and UC Santa Barbara's Bryce Rausa in the first heat of the mens 3000 meter steeplechase preliminaries Friday evening at the 2014 NCAA Division 1 Track and Field West Preliminaries at John McDonnell field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE It appeared Arkansas junior Stanley Kebenei would have a wild sprint to the finish line with Texas El-Paso's Anthony Rotlich to decide the winner of the 3,000-meter steeplechase Saturday at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore.
Kebenei and Rotlich had broken away from the pack to make it a two-man race for the title and ran side-by-side on the final lap.
But Kebenei didn't get the chance to see if he could out-kick Rotlich.
Kebenei's right leg hit the final hurdle and he tripped and fell to the Hayward Field track as Rotlich cleared it cleanly.
Rotich, a junior, won in 8:32.21 to become the first back-to-back NCAA steeplechase champion since Daniel Lincoln won three in a row for Arkansas from 2001-2003. Kebenei was able to get up and finish in 8:35.27.
"I thought it would go to the wire with a lean at the finish," Arkansas coach Chris Bucknam said. "Stanley was real aggressive and he has great closing speed.
"I think he was just running so fast, he ran too close to the hurdle. He couldn't get his leg up in time.
"He was trying to beat the guy and he got caught on it. Just a tough break."
Bucknam applauded Kebenei for being able to take second after his fall.
"It's a stunner when you fall in a race, especially for the national title, but he kept his composure," Bucknam said. "He knew we were battling for a top 10 finish for the team, and he got up and scrambled to the finish. He's just a great competitor.
"I'm proud of him and the rest of our guys."
Kebenei helped push Arkansas into a ninth-place finish in the men's team standings with 20 points. Oregon won its first men's NCAA Outdoor title since 1984 with 88 points, followed by Florida (70) and Texas A&M (41.5).
The Razorbacks' 1,600-meter relay team of sophomores Jarrion Lawson and Eric Janise and seniors Travis Southard and Neil Braddy finished eighth in 3:07.26. It was the 13th All-American honor for Braddy, who is from Fort Smith Southside.
In the triple jump, Arkansas senior Anthony May (52-4 1/2) took ninth and senior Raymond Higgs finished 23rd (50-5 1/4).
Arkansas' women's team finished ninth with 21.5 points, led Saturday by sixth-place finishes from junior Dominique Scott in the 5,000 meters (15:57.79) and its 1,600-meter relay team of freshmen Daina Harper and Regine Williams, sophomore Taylor Ellis-Watson and junior Chrishuna Williams, who ran 3:31.94.
Texas A&M won the women's team title with 75 points, followed by Texas (66) and Oregon (55).
Arkansas senior Stephanie Brown finished eighth in the 1,500 meters in 4:20.85 after having the fastest time in the nation coming into the race (4:11.40).
Brown was in a pack with a chance to challenge for the lead on the final lap, but she got knocked off stride after being bumped by some other runners.
"That made her hesitate on her move to get to the front, and then it just became a mad dash to try to get to the finish," said Lance Harter, the coach of Arkansas' women's team. "By then, two or three steps make a big difference."
Chrishuna Williams was the only returning member of Arkansas' team that won the 1,600 relay at last year's NCAA Outdoor meet.
"That was real positive, and obviously they all return next year," Harter said. "The freshmen got a bit of a taste for what the heat of the NCAA Championships can feel like.
"They all competed well, and Chrishuna did a real good job of moving us up to sixth on the anchor. Those points put us over the top to finish in the top 10."
Razorbacks senior Kirsten Hessletine, from Springdale Har-Ber, matched her personal best by clearing 5-10 3/4 in the high jump to finish 11th. She missed three attempts at 6-0.
Arkansas junior Diane Robison was 21st in the 5,000 (16:41.51).
The Arkansas men were ranked No. 4 nationally going into the NCAA Outdoor meet and Bucknam was hopeful the Razorbacks could challenge for the team title, but it was a struggle for them from the start when junior pole vaulter Andrew Irwin — a two-time NCAA champion — no-heighted, missing three attempts at his opening bar of 17-8 1/2.
Irwin, who underwent hernia surgery last fall, was among four Razorbacks with NCAA Indoor titles who failed to score in an individual event at this year's NCAA Outdoor meet.
Lawson, who helped score a point on the 1,600-meter relay, won the long jump at this year's NCAA Indoor meet, but failed to advance to the Outdoor nationals.
Senior Kevin Lazas, the heptatlon winner at the 2013 NCAA Indoor meet, was slowed by a bulging disc in his back and finished 12th in the decathlon.
Freshman Omar McLeod, who won the 60-meter hurdles at this year's NCAA Indoor meet, pulled up and couldn't finish in the 100-meter semifinals at the Outdoor nationals because of a quadriceps injury. The injury also knocked McLeod off of Arkansas' 400- and 1,600-meter relays.
"Stanley falling and getting back up to finish was an example of us trying to stay in the game," Bucknam said. "It was just a tough week for us, but it wasn't for a lack of trying."
Bucknam led the Razorbacks' to the 2013 NCAA Indoor title, which was Arkansas' 41st national championship in cross country and indoor and outdoor track.
"I know we're always in that shadow of the 41 national championships," Bucknam said. "But when you look at this team and what it went through and getting a ninth-place finish nationally, that's not an easy thing to do, either.
"If we could have stayed healthy and put it all together, we could have done a lot better, but I'm proud of how our kids competed and battled."
Bucknam said Kebenei, who missed the SEC and NCAA Indoor meets because of mononucleosis, handled his fall in the steeplechase as well as could be expected.
"Stanley congratulated the winner, and he was happy that he was able to get second place for the team," Bucknam said. "He wasn't sulking.
"He's just a really good kid and happy that he's running again and healthy."