Let the Games Begin: The Arkansas Invitational marks the kickoff meet of the 2007 indoor track season. The Lady Razorbacks have been off for what seems an eternity, but will ratchet things up quickly as they have only six weekends to compete before the NCAA Championships.
Low Numbers, High Quality: The Arkansas Invitational isn’t going to have huge fields like some other Fayetteville hosted meets. In fact, the field sizes should be pretty manageable with only 11 schools scheduled to participate. However, just because there aren’t a lot of bodies doesn’t make this a nothing meet. Baylor, Houston, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all have serious threats at the NCAA level.
One and Done: The Arkansas Invitational is a quick one-day-and-done affair. Beginning at noon on Friday, the schedule calls for running and field events throughout the day with a tentative ending time of 8:15 p.m. The meet should be enough to get Arkansas’ feet wet before a big meet next weekend, also at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
Year Eight: Believe it or not, but the Randal Tyson Track Center is eight years old in 2007. Opening its doors in February of 2000, the building is set to host its eighth NCAA Championships in March.
SEC Champions: The Lady Razorbacks enter the 2007 indoor season with an honor it has not had in three years, SEC Champions. Arkansas’ cross country team dominated the conference championship held at LSU in October to win its 11th SEC Cross Country title.
17 SEC Championships: Arkansas’ 11 SEC Cross Country titles are the base of the Lady Razorback’s 17 conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track. The Lady Razorbacks have also won three indoor and three outdoor titles.
Postseason Cross Country Awards: Arkansas was highly decorated throughout the cross country season and the post season awards are one indicator. Lance Harter was named the SEC’s Coach of the Year for the 11th time. Freshman Brooke Upshaw won the league’s female athlete of the year award with fellow first-year Dani Parry taking the SEC Freshman of the Year title. Upshaw was also an all-American at the NCAA Championships.
Returning All-Americans: The Lady Razorbacks have seven athletes this winter who have earned all-America status during their careers. Tominque Boatright is the most decorated with three honors followed closely by Paige Farrell and Jodi Unger with two each. Dacia Barr, Jessica Cousins, Sasha Rolle and Brooke Upshaw each have one certificate to their credit.
The 4×4: One of Arkansas’ strengths in 2007 should be its 4×400-meter relay who returns to the track after a tremendous spring. With each of its four legs back and healthy, the Lady Razorbacks hope to improve upon their amazing NCAA Outdoor finish where they ran 3:28. Arkansas’ relay was started by Sasha Rolle and continued by Jessica Cousins and Paige Farrell before Tominque Boatright anchored it home.
Last Winter: It’s no secret that Arkansas’ 4×400-meter relay should be very good this fall. After running 3:28.78 at the NCAA Championships in June and returning each of its four components, one can imagine why people are looking at this team as one of the best in the nation. For perspective on what the team did last winter, its best performance came at the Iowa State Qualifier when it ran 3:33.67, breaking the then school record of 3:33.72 which was also set in 2006 by the same four individuals.
Boatwright’s Emergence: Of the four members of Arkansas’ 4×400-meter relay, Tominque Boatright has started to separate herself from the group on the individual level. The Arkansas school record-holder both indoors and out at 400 meters, Boatright completed her sophomore season with a trip to the NCAA Championships in the 400 meters.
New Faces: The Lady Razorbacks have a score of new faces on its track and field roster this winter. As many as 17 individuals could be donning the cardinal and white for the first time in indoor track. Not limited to any one group of athletes, of the 17, several are distance runners, sprinters and even a thrower.
Vault looks Strong Again: The name recognition may not be as large as it once was, but the Lady Razorback pole vaulters should have a tremendous year. Led by two-time all-American Jodi Unger, Arkansas’ four pole vaulters could shock people this winter with their skill. Joining Unger on the runway are junior Stephanie Irwin, sophomore Megan Scott and redshirt freshman Katie Stripling.
Unger: Jodi Unger had an amazing 2006 season, earning all-America honors in both indoor and outdoor track in the pole vault. She cleared personal bests during both seasons and her vault of 13-11 at the SEC Outdoor Championships set the conference championship record as well as placed second all-time in Arkansas history.
14 Feet: That is the mark that Unger is going for this winter. If she can clear 14 feet at any point this season, she could become just the second Lady Razorback to ever make the bar joining the elite company of April Steiner who did it both indoors and outdoors.
Best Ever?: When speaking about the great pole vaulters that have come through the doors of the University of Arkansas you can’t have the discussion without Unger’s name. The Texas native has as many all-America honors (2) as all but one other Lady Razorback (Steiner) and broke the conference outdoor championship record of Steiner’s. Is Unger the best to ever compete Arkansas, probably not yet, but by the end of the 2007 seasons, she could be.
The Distance Team: Not since the early part of the millennium has Arkansas assembled a distance team like it has currently. The last time the Lady’Backs had such firepower was when the likes of Amy Yoder Begley, Jessica Dailey, Tracy Robertson and Lilli Kleinmann stepped on the track. The 2007 youngsters include Brooke Upshaw, Denise Bargiachi, Christine Kalmer, Dani Parry, Dacia Barr, Kelly Vrshek and Miranda Walker to name a few.
Upshaw’s Fall: Few athletes in Lady Razorback history have had a fall like Brooke Upshaw. In her first semester of collegiate running, Upshaw won a conference individual title, earned first-team all-conference honors, earned all-America honors and was named the SEC’s Athlete of the Year. Not bad for an 18-year-old who at this time last year was deciding which college to attend.
Where to Find the Lady’Backs: The Lady Razorbacks will be well represented at the Arkansas Invitational. The distance team will focus mainly on the 3,000 meters while a few will participate in the 800 and mile. All of Arkansas’ pole vaulters are scheduled to compete as well as the throwers and Michelle Martin in the high jump. Arkansas’ sprinters are focusing on the 400 meters and the relay. All but a couple of the team will tackle to 400-meter race with Megan Thompson and Jessica Cousins the only runners scheduled for other races.