by Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – From its beginning, the McDonnell Invitational and its predecessors nearly always have been plagued by foul weather.
“If farmers needed rain they could always look forward to our meet,” McDonnell used to say.
This year’s meet, still named for Arkansas’ late 42-times national champion coaching legend, didn’t bring rain Friday at McDonnell Field but did it bring nasty 38-degree windy temperatures and many competitors in the 18-meet field opting not to risk competing since they were unable to get properly warmed up.
“We could have this meet in July and there would probably be an invasion of grasshoppers,” longtime Hall of Fame Arkansas Women’s Coach Lance Harter remarked.
Both Arkansas Men’s Coach Chris Bucknam, McDonnell’s Razorbacks coaching successor since 2008-2009 and Harter said the meet’s highlight came with presenting the John McDonnell Program of the Year Trophy, the national award given since 2013 by the United States Track and Field Cross Country and Track Coaches Association eight years before McDonnell passed away, to John’s wife, Ellen McDonnell and family.
The trophy annually is presented to the men’s program with the best composite NCAA Championship meet for cross country, indoor track and outdoor track, which Bucknam’s Razorbacks achieved for 2021.
As for the meet, “it was mainly just getting through it,” both coaches said, though each cited highlights.
NCAA Indoor heptathlon champion Ayden Owens, warming up for his first outdoor decathlon in this week’s upcoming Mount Sac Invitational in California, threw a personal record 145-10 in last Thursday’s discus, and fellow decathlete Noah Swaby tossed 143-6.
For the women, graduate transfer pole vaulter Amanda Fassold astounded in the nasty conditions, soaring a lifetime best 14-4 1-2 leading vault to push coach Bryan Compton’s Razorbacks to a first- through-fifth-place finish.
“To win in these conditions shows you’re able to persevere through the weather and look past it while getting good jumps in,” Fassold said. “I think it’s awesome that we were all able to come out here and clear some bars.”
Bucknam and Harter both said they look forward to presumably much better conditions to post NCAA Regionals qualifying marks at Mount Sac.