NCAA West Preliminaries:

Grace makes the race

Heymsfield earns berth in nationals

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, May 31, 2014
Arkansas runner Grace Heymsfield leads the pack as she makes the water jump in the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase Friday at the 2014 NCAA Track & Field West Preliminaries at John McDonnell field in Fayetteville.
Photo by Michael Woods
Arkansas runner Grace Heymsfield leads the pack as she makes the water jump in the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase Friday at the 2014 NCAA Track & Field West Preliminaries at John McDonnell field in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- For Grace Heymsfield, Friday night felt like another training run at John McDonnell Field.

That's how easy the Razorbacks senior from Elkins made winning her heat of the 3,000-meter steeplechase look at the NCAA West Preliminaries.

Heymsfield took the lead the from start, extended it to as many as 200 meters and won by more than six seconds, finishing in 10:01.89 to advance to the NCAA Championships held June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.

"Watching Grace run like that is very comforting," Arkansas women's Coach Lance Harter said. "You get a chance to visit with other people while you're waiting for her to come around again."

Heymsfield, a two-time SEC steeplechase champion, said her goal was to automatically qualify by finishing among the top three in her heat, but that she didn't want a slow pace.

"It gets messy in a pack, so I wanted to go out from the start," she said. "I thought at least a few would come with me, but nobody really did.

"So I was like, 'OK, I'll just settle in, this is just like practice.' "

Heymsfield said she might have lost some rhythm late in the race.

"But who cares?" she said with a laugh. "I'm going to Eugene."

Heymsfield had a big cheering section of family and friends from Elkins, 10 miles away.

"I could hear my dad for sure," she said. "He's loud and he's excited. Seeing my parents here is so awesome. They haven't been able to travel to a lot of the meets, so having a big home meet is really special."

Harter said he was stunned how big a lead Heymsfield built.

"For Grace to go out there and just take command right away in the first 200 meters, that's a little atypical of her," he said. "But it also shows that she's really starting to gain confidence in herself in this event.

"She just took over and kept her wits about her."

Arkansas senior Stanley Kebenei won his heat of the men's steeplechase, but had to hold off Oregon's Tanguy Pepiot in the final meters. Kebenei won in 8:42.61 with Pepiot second in 8:42.67.

"This is my home track and I didn't want to let our fans down," Kebenei said. "I was like, 'No you can't take this.' I had to show him I'm at home."

Kebenei laid back on the first lap, then moved up to take a lead he held for the rest of the race.

"It was a very easy race, but I didn't want to take any chances," he said. "I was relaxed. I feel like I can drop more time."

Arkansas Coach Chris Bucknam said it was encouraging to see Kebenei run so easily after he missed the indoor season because of mononucleosis.

"This meet it cruel and unusual punishment sometimes. but then other times you see these kids run relaxed like Stanley did," Bucknam said. "It's always a dangerous race, the barriers, but he survived it and it's on to the next one."

Kebenei will run the 5,000 tonight.

"He ran smart and hopefully conserved a little bit of energy, because that 5,000 is going to be a burner," Bucknam said. "We'll see how he handles it."

Kebenei's performance in the steeplechase was part of a good rebound for the No. 4 ranked Razorbacks after Jarrion Lawson, the NCAA Indoor champion in the long jump, failed to advance.

Freshman Omar McLeod opened Friday night's events by advancing in the 110-meter hurdles after a rough 400 hurdles Thursday.

McLeod, who won the 60 hurdles at the NCAA Indoor meet, won his heat Friday in 13.69 to automatically advance to tonight's quarterfinals. He finished 23rd in Thursday's first round of the 400 hurdles..

Waking up Friday, McLeod said he felt some nervous about the 110 hurdles.

"I'm like, 'Oh, Lord it's Arkansas and the team needs the points,' " said McLeod, who is from Jamaica. "But I know my capability."

McLeod shot to the lead and didn't hit a hurdle.

Bucknam praised the way McLeod bounced back from Thursday.

"That's what's great about these young kids -- they can put it behind them faster than the coaches can," Bucknam said.

McLeod said his competitive nature took over as Friday night's race drew closer.

"I'm a fighter," he said. "I know in track and field mishaps come. Everything is not going to go your way.

"You just have to know how to overcome those mishaps."

Two Razorbacks advanced to nationals in the high jump as freshman Ken LeGassey cleared 7-1 and senior Noah Kittelson took 12th, clearing 6-11 1/2. LeGassey finished second based on misses. Kittleson got the last qualifying spot for nationals.

Arkansas senior Anthony May, who was fourth the high jump at the NCAA Outdoors last year, was 16th, clearing 6-11 1/2. He missed three attempts at 7-1.

May qualified for nationals in the long jump Thursday night and will compete in the triple jump tonight.

Arkansas juniors Patrick Rono (1:48.90) and Tomas Squella (1:49.10) advanced in the 800. Rono was third and Squella 12th.

Arkansas junior Tamara Myers advanced in the triple jump, taking fourth in 42-8 1/2. She advanced in the long jump Thursday. Razorbacks freshman Taylor Ellis-Watson advanced to nationals in the 400, running 53.02 to take eight, and sophomore Jessica Kamilos finished 11th in the steeplechase (10:13.68) to advance.

Freshman Regine Williams ran 23.46 in the 200 to advance to tonight's quarterfinals.

Sports on 05/31/2014