Led by seniors Denise Bargiachi, Peter-Gaye Beckford, Etienne Chaplin, Christine Kalmer and Sarah Landau, head coach Lance Harter’s 2009 version of the Razorbacks is littered with experience and talented and sprinkled with budding youth who will make an immediate impact.
"We have a lot of experience returning and obviously we have to depend on the leadership of the All-Americans and also the experience of those who have competed at some of the highest levels," said Harter. "Then we look at the newcomers who are a young, sprint crew. A lot of them are the 400-meter types that we feel very confident in."
Denise Bargiachi will be one of the key seniors leading the team this season in hopes of having a repeat performance of last season.
Bargiachi has steadily improved during her tenure with the Razorbacks and will lead a young group of distance harriers with Christine Kalmer. Bargiachi reached new heights in 2008 as an indoor and outdoor national qualifier, the SEC Indoor 5K title and NCAA Indoor All-America honors.
"I met with Denise (Bargiachi) before the season began and she had really high goals like all the seniors," said Harter. "Both she and Christine Kalmer have deliberate dreams and I think that holds true with everybody. All of it really hinges on wanting to score at the NCAA level. If you can score at the SEC level, that’s a great predictor of what is going to happen at the NCAA level."
Kalmer is the school record holder at 3,000 meters and was a 2008 NCAA qualifier in the 3,000 meters indoors and the 5,000 meters outdoors.
Courtenay Brown, a junior, will also be looked at to lead the team this year with Shelise Williams in the quarter-mile as they come into their junior and sophomore years, respectively, looking to greatly improve on their 2008 seasons.
Originally coming in as a long jumper, Peter-Gaye Beckford has shown promise in the javelin and the multi events and is coming in to her senior season looking to have her best year to record. Beckford, who only has indoor eligibility remaining, will be hoping to improve upon her personal bests in the long jump, javelin, and pentathlon and heptathlon.
"Peter-Gaye knows this is her senior year and a year that she wants to make her mark," said Harter. "She has done all the right things to prepare for the upcoming season."
Etienne Chaplin, the 2008 SEC pentathlon champion and NCAA qualifier, comes into the 2009 season with only outdoor eligibility remaining. Chaplin, who was recovering from knee surgery last year and only competed on a limited basis outdoors, will be hoping to compete at full speed during the 2009 season.
Arkansas’ stellar pole vault crew is back in action for 2009. Veterans Katie Stripling, Tara Diebold, Kristen Keith and Sarah Landau welcome newcomers Tina Sutej, a native of Slovenia whose best is 14-0, Janice Keppler, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, and Lauren Kegley. Keppler was a national and regional qualifier and a conference champion while competing for the EMU Eagles.
"I think during the fall training program, we were really excited about our pole vaulters," said Harter. "They are stronger, faster and more mature and they have been down the road before."
Led by assistant coach Bryan Compton, the Hogs have dominated SEC competition in years past and this year looks to be no different with 2008 Outdoor All-American and two-time SEC Champion Stripling and SEC indoor runner-up Diebold returning to competition.
In his 13th season, Lonnie Green leads a young but talented sprints, hurdles, and jumps group. At the helm of the sprints crew are Brown and Williams. With a deep group of potential 400-meter runners and potential relay legs, Greene looks to his veterans to help nurture and develop the underclassmen. Many of the newcomers also have the possibility of taking legs of the 4×400-meter relay in addition to the mile relay. Whitney Jones is another name to look for among Greene’s student-athletes. She set the Arkansas state record in the triple jump and holds the Arkansas Meet of Champions record in the same event. She is a two-time state heptathlon champion and a three-time state champion at 100 and 200 meters, triple jump and long jump. Jones joins Beckford and Chaplin to add depth in the vertical jumps events.
As the 2009 indoor and outdoor season begins, Harter looks to continue the balanced approach to each season (indoor, outdoor, cross-country) as if each season was equally important. Harter refers to how there are very few schools remaining that focus on each season equally.
"Everybody has either sacrificed cross-country or sacrificed track and field to gain recognition in one or the other," said Harter. "Many think that we are still one of the few programs that try to go with the balanced approach and be competitive in all areas and I think that is something to be real proud of and something we can continue."
Harter is very excited about the SEC competition this year. With the SEC nationally competitive in every event, there can be no let-up at any point during the year for Harter and his team.
"The conference explodes in every event, there is just no weakness," said Harter. "Part of that is because you have great coaches, great programs, and everybody is trying to find a niche. It’s interesting because our peers in other conferences get excited about seeing the results of the SEC because they know it’s faster, quicker, and stronger. It’s the trademark of the SEC."
The Razorbacks begin the indoor season with the Arkansas Quad (Jan. 9), the Missouri Southern Invitational (Jan. 16-17) and the Razorback Invitational (Jan. 23-24). The first road trip of the season will come the last weekend of January for the UW Invitational and the Penn State National.
Next up is the New Balance Collegiate Invitational (New York, N.Y.; Feb. 6-7) and the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville (Feb. 13-14).
Indoor championship season begins with the SEC Championships, Feb. 27-March 1, in Lexington, Ky. Arkansas will host a Last Chance Meet on March 6 before the NCAA Championships are contested March 13-14 in College Station, Texas.
The outdoor season begins with the Stanford Invitational (March 27-28), Florida Relays (April 1-4) and John Jacobs Invitational at Oklahoma (April 10-11). The Razorbacks will host the John McDonnell Invitational (April 17-18), travel some student-athletes to Mt. SAC Relays (April 17-18) and then take on Drake Relays (April 23-25).
Outdoor championship season begins with the SEC Championships, May 14-17, in Gainesville, Fla. Next up are the NCAA Mideast Regional Championships, May 29-30, in Louisville, Ky. Arkansas will end the season hosting the NCAA Championships, June 10-13, at John McDonnell Field.