By: Molly O’Mara
Arkansas track and field is famous for many things; winning 42 national titles, legendary coach John McDonnell and world class facilities. These notable accomplishments can be attributed to many things but there is a common occurrence through out many of these national championship seasons.
Not only are Razorback athletes competitive and successful in one event, often times they have contributed to the team score in many events on the conference and national championship arenas. A huge stepping stone for the SEC and NCAA Indoor Championships is this weekend’s Tyson Invitational at the Randal Tyson Track Center, Feb. 9-10.
The same holds true for the 2007 jumping crew. With the addition of freshmen Alain Bailey and Gary Jones joining Greg Martin, Brent Rosson, Nkosinza Balumbu, Mychael Stewart and Daniel Quinn, the Hogs have formed a jump group with the potential to score many points on the conference and national levels. Rosson specializes in the high jump while Balumbu, Jones and Quinn will take long and triple jumping duties. Bailey, Martin and Stewart can compete in the high jump in addition to the horizontal jumps.
“We have just got to go out there and put our name on the map,” All-American Balumbu said. “We want to be competitive. Right now we are sitting in the middle on some of our (national) rankings. We want to make our way up and set a foundation this weekend.”
Balumbu has hit his NCAA provisional-qualifying triple jump with a leap of 51-6.5 at the Razorback Invitational three weeks ago. Of the 17 provisional marks registered by the Razorbacks, seven are from the jump crew, including a 7-1 high jump from Martin in his first competition of the season. Balumbu is looking to improve and to see his teammates improve.
“We are coming along well right now as a group of jumpers,” Balumbu added. “The University of Arkansas always has good jumpers. This is the time when we tend to step it up, around the Tyson meet and around the SEC meet, right before Nationals. We don’t do it on purpose it just happens that way.”
Bailey is another Hog who has hit his provisional mark (25-0.25 in the long jump) but still expects big things out of himself and his teammates in the other events.
“I am used to preparing for both the long jump and the triple jump,” Bailey explained. “I have been (long and triple jumping) since high school. It won’t be that difficult preparing for me. I specialize in the long jump and after that I work on triple jump.”
Bailey shares a common goal with many of his teammates, getting to the NCAA Championships. While his chances look good, he is always looking to improve.
“Thus far, we have done well as a group,” Bailey said. “We all want to qualify. The rest of us are taking it in strides. The SEC Championships are coming up and we are just concentrating on qualifying.”
Bentonville product Stewart is another jumper who has preformed at a high level to start out the season but is still looking to improve in all of his events.
“I feel really confident about having another big meet to improve my marks and try to qualify in the triple jump,” Stewart said. “It’s a big home meet and really exciting. We know we are capable of doing good things in the triple jump and we just want to go out and prove it.”
Training for one event can be gruesome. Training for numerous is down-right difficult. The Razorbacks take it in stride and work together toward a common goal. Motivation is never lacking when a group wants to improve as a whole.
“The training has been going really well and it seems like everything among the jumpers is clicking,” Stewart said. “We’re like a big family. I started the year long jumping, but I didn’t want to get tired long jumping every week so we started alternating weeks. Right now we’re in good position nationally to where we can lay off (the long jump) a little bit until conference.”
The two newest members of the jumps family, Bailey and Jones, have gotten acquainted quickly and have impressed their upperclassmen teammates in the beginning stages of competition.
“They’ve matured really fast as freshman,” Stewart explained. “They are way ahead of where I was as a freshman. They are very competitive and they understand that they have goals they want to accomplish and know how to best do that. (Gary) has been really successful and he knows what he’s capable of doing, especially when he’s 100 percent.”
Stewart and his teammates have set a high standard when it comes to competition. They welcome the opportunity to compete and improve. It’s what they planned on doing from that start of the season.
“I think we’ve set ourselves up to be very competitive over the next couple of months,” Stewart added. “We have the best jump crew in the conference and probably the nation and we just want to keep improving.”
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