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 a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Arkansas decathlete makes a big splash
Arkansas' Markus Ballengee runs ahead of Oregon's Max Vollmer during the Razorback Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — It had been nearly three years since Markus Ballengee competed in a decathlon, but the University of Arkansas junior didn’t look rusty this weekend.
Ballengee won the decathlon Sunday at the John McDonnell Invitational with a personal-best and meet record 7,895 points.
It’s the third-highest score in the nation this year behind Georgia’s Karel Tliga (8,484) and Pittsburgh’s Felix Wolter (7,950).
Ballengee also now ranks third on Arkansas’ all-time list behind Kevin Lazas (7,955) and Gabe Moore (7,950).
Prior to this weekend, the last decathlon for Ballengee was the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore., on June 6-7, 2018, when he he was a sophomore at Liberty University and finished seventh with 7,722 points.
Last year’s outdoor season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Ballengee redshirted in 2019 after transferring from Liberty.
“First decathlon since 2018, and I had almost a 200-point [personal best],” Ballengee said. “So it’s a big deal.
“It actually took a lot of off me with the nervousness and the stress being able to do the decathlon here at home and utilize the facilities that I’ve been using for months now.”
Ballengee qualified for the NCAA meet and fell just five points of the qualifying mark for the United States Olympic Trials (7,900) and 455 short of the Olympic qualifying standard (8,350).
“It just feels like nice to get back into it,” he said. “And we have a lot more potential there in a lot of events.”
Ballengee used a short approach on the high jump ( 6-3 1/2) Saturday, and the pole vault (15-9) Sunday because he was still being careful with a left quadriceps injury he sustained running the 60 meters in the pentathlon during the NCAA Indoor Championships March 11.
“We were going very easy to make sure I didn’t re-injure myself,” Ballengee said of himself and Arkansas assistant coach Mario Satgena, who trains the multi-event athletes. “I was going about 90% in this meet. Hopefully the other 10% will add up to the 400 some points I need to the Olympic standard.”
Ballengee said he had personal bests Sunday in the 110-meter hurdles (14.34) and in the discus (172-5). He also threw the javelin 170-3 and ran the 1,500 in 4:44.03.
“It’s just been a long road for Markus,” Arkansas men’s Coach Chris Bucknam said. “Transferring from Liberty, redshirting the next year, and when he was ready for a breakthrough [last year] covid stops it.
“A lot of credit to him and Coach Sategna to keep the ship afloat this year. I’m proud of him.”
Ballengee led a 1-2-3 finish for the Razorbacks in the decathlon with sophomore Daniel Specjcher taking second with a personal-best 7,7707 points and senior Tyler Brendel third with 7,351.
Mat Clark, the Razorbacks’ strength coach who will be 34 on May 31 and was an All-American decathlete at Northern Iowa, also competed this weekend and finished fourth with 7,201 points.
“I had to battle out there,” Ballengee said. “My teammates and Coach Clark definitely pushed me.”
Other event winners for the Razorbacks’ men’s team on Sunday included Tre’Bien Gilbert in the 110-meter hurdles (personal best 13.52); John Baker in the long jumper (26-1); and James Milholen in the 400 (46.15).
Gilbert also ran on Arkansas’ winning 400-meter relay (39.75) along with Roman Turner, Cade Clark and Jalen Brown.
Arkansas’ women’s team was led by Tiana Wilson, a sophomore from Hamburg who Sunday won the 400 in a personal-best 51.71. She also set the meet record, breaking the mark of 52.05 run by Regina George in 2012, and ran on the winning 400 relay team (44.37) along with Yoveinny Mota, Jayla Hollis and Jada Baylark.
Wilson won the the 200 on Saturday in a personal-best 23.21.
“Tiana Wilson, you throw her in a race and she just takes care of the challenge,” Arkansas women’s Coach Lance Harter said. “She’s such a great competitor that she just answers the call whatever you ask her to do.”
The Arkansas women also got victories Sunday from Baylark in the 100 (wind-aided 11.26); Mota in the 100 hurdles (personal-best 12.91); Krissy Gear in the 800 (2:04.79); and G’Auna Edwards in the long jump (21-4 1/2).
University of Central Arkansas senior Zachary Jewell, from Mena, won the 100 in a wind-aided time of 10.07. UCA freshman TJ Robinson won the 800 in a personal best 1:50.33 and also ran a leg on the Bears’ 1,600-meter rleay team that won in 3:10.93.
Arkansas State University’s Allie Hensley, a junior from Clinton, cleared 5-9 3/4 to win the high jump.
The meet’s final race was the decathlon 1,500, in which Ballengee took third behind Brendel (4:33.12) and Clark (4:37.96).
“I was going for the school record, but that 1,500 is tough,” Ballengee said of his total being 60 points behind Lazas’ mark. “I just couldn’t make the few seconds that I needed.”
Ballengee did break the meet record of 7,831 set in 2013 by Terry Prentice, who is returned to Arkansas in March as an associate athletic director.
“Terry was out here cheering us on the whole weekend, but I didn’t know about his record until he brought it up,” Ballengee said. “I was like, ‘Oh, sorry I beat your record.’ But he congratulated me and was very happy.”
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